Issue of September 13, 2020
     
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Boracay in Manila?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is implementing a massive and ambitious project in Manila to rehabilitate the bay area along Roxas Boulevard. They are backfilling Manila Bay with dolomite, a white crystalline substance from crushed rocks imported from Cebu City, to make a five-hundred-meter stretch of it into a white sand beach. The cost of the project? A staggering P380 million.

The project will surely facelift the polluted coastline and make it as aesthetic as any other major beaches in the country. Even as the rehabilitation remains uncompleted, DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu is already ecstatically and exaggeratingly rechristening Manila Bay to Manila Boracay.

Well, Manila Bay will never be Boracay. Boracay beach is a class of its own. It is first among equals, primus inter pares, among other beaches all over the world. This is why it is visited by more people than any other places in the Philippines. It is a major tourist destination.

On the other hand, Manila Bay has quite a dubious reputation. If one closes his eyes and imagines the coast and the cove that surround it, the picture that comes to mind is floating debris, human waste, plastics, discarded oil, and the putrid smell of anything and everything that comes out of a septic tank. It does not help that there is a concerted effort to preserve the beach. It remains to be as polluted.

The DENR wants to change all that. The P389M project aims to put Manila Bay up there among the best places that visitors will remember when in Manila. But, is the project worth the budget and the effort?

The Department of Health has warned that the dolomite material that is being used to cover the beach to make it appear like it is of white sand is harmful to human health. It warned that crushed dolomite can cause respiratory ailment, eye, and gastrointestinal irritation. If the dust coming from the dolomite is inhaled, it weakens the respiratory system and may trigger allergy, asthma, or any other lung-related illness. Not a good atmosphere during this Covid-19 season.

The DOH is not alone in its opposition. Several lawmakers are up in arms about the implementation of the project saying that “there was no public consultation, no environmental clearance, and premature issuance of the environmental impact assessment.”

Senator Nancy Binay observes that the “plan did not pass through proper study.” Another representative is threatening to file a Writ of Kalikasan case to stop the dredging and backfilling.

Still, the DENR is unfazed. It has the backing of the President who, in his usual histrionics which is rampant in his speeches, insists that it is better to backfill Manila Bay with dolomite rather than trash and garbage. In a way, he is right. Left alone, Manila Bay is the catch basin of the trash and garbage emanating from adjoining cities and municipalities within the metropolis. Properly regulated and guarded, though, it might just regain its old glory days as the face of the country.

Manila Bay was not always like it is. What makes it very significant is that it is the gateway to the Philippines. Based on history books, it was rich with fish and its coral reefs teemed with life. But, the activity of man destroyed its biodiversity and made it a dead patch of the sea. Pity.

DENR is seeing to it that Manila Bay is restored. So, why the clamor against the project to beautify it and rehabilitate it? Why raise health issues about the face-lifting activity and the materials being used when all the while, Manila Bay, with its downtrodden water and air pollution, is as toxic as any carbon monoxide can be? Should we not rejoice instead?

Manila Bay will never be a Boracay. Not even close. Cimatu may have overestimated his projections. Yet, the effort is noble and whatever comes out of the face-lifting of Manila Bay is for the best interest of the Filipino people.

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