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Mission Possible? – A Manila Bay safe for “recreational swimming” by 2016

January 27, 2012 5:52pm
At the sidelines of the Global Conference on Land-Ocean Connections, which ended Friday in Pasig City, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the government will strive to make the coastal waters of the Manila Bay fit for swimming before President Benigno Aquino III leaves office in 2016.
 
Paje admitted the goal is “so difficult to attain” but to restore the waters of Manila Bay to “recreational water” quality levels is the mandate from the Supreme Court, which, Paje said, ruled in 2008 on a case originally filed by concerned bay residents.

In the December 18, 2008 ruling penned by SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, the high court specified that the bay's waters must be restored to and maintained at “SB level” or Class B sea water as defined in Water Classification Tables under DENR Administrative Order No. 34, so that its bathing waters will be “fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation.”
 
The case originated from the Imus, Cavite regional trial court's sala of then Executive Judge Lucenito Tagle, who is now a Commissioner of the Commission on Elections.
 
The high court said the mission it gave is "daunting" but some progress is being made. Paje said the plastic bans of the Metro Manila local governments are positive steps. He counted Quezon City, Las Pinas, Pasig, Muntinlupa, Pasay, and Mandaluyong as the cities that have passed ordinances banning or phasing out the use of plastic.
 
The DENR chief said ordinances against plastic are pending in Valenzuela, Caloocan, Paranaque, Makati, Malabon and Marikina, while in the drafting stage are Pateros, Taguig and Navotas.
 
Paje said the plastic bans will help reduce the dumping of waste in the esteros and rivers, which take on 30 percent of Metro Manila's garbage. He added that Manila Bay clean up operations hauled 2,700 truckloads of garbage last year. “The solution is not to collect garbage. The solution is to prevent dumping,” he said.
 
Heavily polluted waters
 
GMA News Online learned, through phone inquiry with the Manila Bay Coordinating Office (MBCO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that coliform or bacteria levels in the coastal waters near Luneta and in Navotas have fallen, but remain far from the standard.
 
The most recent water sample from Luneta shows that in the third quarter of last year, fecal coliform level was at 79,000 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters. The standard is 200 MPN/100 ml. The Navotas sample indicated a much higher concentration of 202,000 MPN/100 ml.
 
The year-before figure for Luneta was mind-boggling: 3,336,333 MPN/100 ml. Yes. That's 3.3 million! For Navotas, it was 267,000 MPN/100 ml.
 
The sample from Guadalupe Nuevo along the Pasig River had total coliform level of even more incredible numbers: 448 million MPN/100ml! There the dissolved oxygen level (amount of oxygen in the water) was at 1.69 milligrams per liter. Paje said the fit-for-swimming standard is 7 mg per liter.
 
Anyone brave enough to dive into these waters would literally be swimming in a septic tank, which is how Paje describes Manila Bay and the Pasig River.

People flocked to the Baywalk area on Roxas Boulevard to bathe in the murky waters of Manila Bay last Easter Sunday. GMANews.TV

Sewerage services
 
The MBCO attributes the observed decline in coliform levels to the gradual removal of informal settlers from waterways and sewerage improvement projects of the two water service concessionaires in Metro Manila: Manila Water and Maynilad.
 
Manila Water and Maynilad are under intense pressure from the DENR, which Paje said has meted out almost P300 million in fines for shortcomings of their sewerage operations.
 
Manila Water said on its website that it has 36 sewage treatment plants with a combined treatment capacity of 135 million liters of wastewater per day. It also has two septage treatment plants that can treat as much as 1,400 cubic meters of septic tank wastes per day. It added that 200 kilometers of sewer pipelines have also been laid in its concession area, the East Zone.
 
"At present, only residents and establishments in Tondo, Sampaloc, South Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Caloocan, Projects 7 and 8 in Quezon City and Magallanes Village in Makati City may connect to Maynild’s sewerage system. Customers in these areas are encouraged to avail of Maynilad’s sewerage services for a cleaner and safer environment," Maynilad Water Services said on its website.
 
"Customers in areas not covered by Maynilad’s sewerage network dispose of their wastewater through their own septic tanks or sewage treatment facilities (for big commercial and industrial customers). Those who are located outside the sewered areas and maintain their own septic tanks, may avail of Maynilad’s desludging services," the West Zone concessionare added.
 
On orders of the Supreme Court
 
The landmark high court decision tasked the Department of Budget and Management to “consider incorporating an adequate budget in the General Appropriations Act of 2010 and succeeding years to cover the expenses relating to the cleanup, restoration, and preservation of the water quality of the Manila Bay, in line with the country’s development objective to attain economic growth in a manner consistent with the protection, preservation, and revival of our marine waters.”
 
Ordered to submit quarterly reports are the “heads of petitioners-agencies MMDA, DENR, DepEd, DOH, DA, DPWH, DBM, PCG, PNP Maritime Group, DILG, and also of MWSS, LWUA, and PPA, in line with the principle of “continuing mandamus.”

Clogged waterways
 
The Court noted and identified the bodies of water where there are thousands of “shanties and other unauthorized structures which do not have septic tanks.”
 
These are the Pasig-Marikina-San Juan Rivers, the Navotas-Malabon-Tullahan-Tenejeros Rivers, the Meycuayan-Marilao-Obando Rivers, the Talisay (Bataan) River, the Imus (Cavite) River, the Laguna De Bay, and other minor rivers and connecting waterways, river banks, and esteros which discharge their waters, with all the accompanying filth, dirt, and garbage, into the major rivers and eventually the Manila Bay.
 
“If there is one factor responsible for the pollution of the major river systems and the Manila Bay, these unauthorized structures would be on top of the list. And if the issue of illegal or unauthorized structures is not seriously addressed with sustained resolve, then practically all efforts to cleanse these important bodies of water would be for naught,” the Supreme Court said.
 
Relocation of the informal settlers has been a tough challenge. The settlers resist and often with violence. To clear the esteros, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority literally has to wade tons of garbage and highly toxic water.
 
While the SC said “time is of the essence” it did not specify any timetable or deadline. DENR Secretary Paje said the 2016 is the goal of the Aquino administration. He revealed that the latest report of the DENR to the court was sent last December.
 
The DENR chief hoped the SC will come out with a status report sometime in April. “The December report was disaggregated per government agency so responsibility can be clearly determined,” Paje said. The MBCO revealed that it is in the process of crafting a report on water quality levels for the cities and towns for better transparency and accountability.
 
Herculean though the mission may seem, the Supreme Court has faith that the  government and Filipinos will do what must be done to save Manila Bay.
 
“It is not yet too late in the day to restore the Bay to its former splendor and bring back the plants and sea life that once thrived in its blue waters. But the tasks ahead, daunting as they may be, could only be accomplished if those mandated, with the help and cooperation of all civic-minded individuals, would put their minds to these tasks and take responsibility,” the high court said. — GMA News



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