In a little over two months, the controversial Manila dolomite beach should be fit for recreational activities, such as swimming.
That’s the ambitious plan of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR), which has timed the deadline with the end of the administration of President Duterte.
Where is the DENR in the plan to make the dolomite beach water fit to swim?
Although he did not mention what phase the DENR is in its restoration, Undersecretary Jonas Leones said that the department would continue its aggressive efforts to rehabilitate Manila bay and reach the water quality standard of 100 mpn per 100 mL last Feb. 28.
“We are confident na kung magtuloy-tuloy yong rehabilitation hopefully by the end of this administration’s term we can beat the standard in terms of water quality. Gusto namin pag binuksan yan hindi na lang viewing ng mga tao pati yong life long dream natin na maging swimmable na yung Manila Bay (We are confident and hopeful that the continuous rehabilitation will help us achieve the standard water quality. Aside from viewing, we also want to open Manila Bay for swimming),” Leones said.
It was on June 27, 2019 when the rehabilitation of Manila Bay started with the announcement of former Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.
For the restoration of the beautiful Manila Bay, the DENR has sought the help of concerned agencies such as the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), among others.
The work is not as simple as the sight one gets when it drives past the Manila Bay along Roxas Blvd.
According to data, the Manila Bay meanders along the coasts of the National Capital Region, Bataan, Bulacan, Cavite, and Pampanga. Its waters also affect the provinces of Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Rizal, and Tarlac, considered as “non-coastal” areas.
There are 17 river systems draining out to Manila Bay, which adds to the problem of water pollution. These are the Angat River, Bocaue River, Maria River, Marilao River, Meycauayan, Meycauayan-Valenzuela River, Pasig River, Parañaque River, Imus River, Ylang-ylang River, Rio Grande, Cañas River, Obando River, Navotas-Malabon-Tinajeros-Tullahan River, Talisay River, Guagua River, and Pampanga River.
Phases of rehabilitation
According to DENR, Manila Bay’s rehabilitation will go through three phases.
Phase 1 focuses on water quality improvement, including cleaning up designated esteros and waterways; reducing the fecal coliform levels and toxic discharges from houses and establishments, repairing leaks in old sewer lines; and implementing solid waste management.
As a result of the agency’s plan to improve the water quality, the Manila Bay Coordinating Office’s (MBCO) data in January revealed that the Baywalk area, which is a priority in rehabilitation, registered a notable decrease in the coliform level and recorded an average of 21,100 mpn per 100 ml at the third quarter of 2021 –from 5.75 million mpn per 100 mL in 2019.
The data also showed that in September last year, the Baywalk Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), which treats wastewater from the Padre Faura, Remedios, and Estero de San Antonio de Abad outfalls, received an influent of 8.8 million mpn per 100 ml and releases an effluent of 9.4 mpn per 100 ml which passed the fecal coliform standard for recreational waters.
The first phase also covers the safety of informal settlers residing along esteros and shorelines, wherein the agency also provided temporary sanitation facilities and planned their relocation.
Phase 2 aims to rehabilitate the old sewer lines in NCR, the completion of 340 million liters per day (MLD) of Maynilad and Manila Water by this year, and the safe relocation of informal settlers.
For Phase 3, the department aims to educate citizens to protect the bay’s improvement, sustain law enforcement and monitoring, and complete Metro Manila’s sewerage system by 2026.
Initiatives and regulatory policy
Three years before the start of Manila Bay’s rehabilitation, the Supreme Court issued on Dec. 18, 2016, an SC Mandamus directing the agencies mentioned above “to clean up, rehabilitate, preserve, restore, and maintain” the bay waters to SB level, which is fit for swimming and other recreational activities.
Other than coastal cleanups and solid waste management, the department has also coordinated with the
Department of National Defense (DND) to construct a replica of the Fort Drum Island cannon near Manila’s Remedios drainage outfall “to serve as a physical reminder of the department’s commitment and willpower in our battle to rehabilitate Manila Bay.”
How the public can help
Although Manila Bay’s water quality showed improvement, the DENR also asked locals to help the government achieve its goal to make ‘dolomite beach’ safe for swimming through proper waste management.
It advised individuals to segregate and dispose of their solid wastes properly and avoid using single-use plastics, which pollute esteros and waterways. When going out, people should also use eco-bags, reusable water bottles, utensils, and straws.
The agency said household wastes should be buried under the ground or thrown with biodegradable waste and not poured into the sink, which clogs creeks and streams. Families should also opt to use environment-friendly soaps, shampoos, and detergents instead of their commercial counterparts containing harmful chemicals that flow into our oceans.