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Environmentalist, fisherfolk groups slam DENR’s white sand ‘cover-up’ at Manila Bay


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Environmentalists and fisherfolk on Thursday criticized the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR) plan to cover the Baywalk on Roxas Boulevard with white sand.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Sonny Batungbacal on Thursday pointed out that pouring white sand does not resolve the pollution in the bay.

“If the intention of the 'white sand reclamation' is to cover up the existing pollution, time would tell when pollutants would leak,” Batungbacal told GMA News Online.

“This is an aesthetic solution and does not solve pollution at the source,” he added.

Citing information from the DENR, Batungbacal said that only 15 percent (2.4 million out of 16.3 million) of the water-served population in Metro Manila are connected to a sewerage system.

He added that only 3.84 percent (187,00 of 4,863,938) of water served population outside Metro Manila are provided with sanitation services.

“So the solution is ‘white cover-up’?” Batungbacal said.

He said that environmental laws should be fully implemented to help Manila Bay recover from pollution. He noted that it would take time to recover considering its size and the 17 principal rivers draining to it.

“If these rivers are clean, then Manila Bay will be,” he told GMA News Online.

Batungbacal also urged water concessionaires to speed up the connection of the remaining 85 percent of water served population to the sewerage system.

“Cut pollution at the source, especially single-use plastics, and now, proper disposal of PPEs. Only then could nature takes course to recovery,” he added.

Artificial rehab

Fisherfolk groups’ alliance PAMALAKAYA called the project an “artificial rehabilitation” that focused on aesthetics rather than addressing the environmental degradation problems of Manila Bay.

Pouring white sand would less likely contribute to the rehabilitation and restoration of the bay, PAMALAKAYA national chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement on Thursday.

“The DENR doesn’t have any concrete plan to restore the bay that it resorts to focus on external beautification which is actually a sham and artificial, instead of a genuine rehabilitation,” he added.

Hicap said that the DENR should stop "destructive" projects such as massive reclamation and the conversion of fishing grounds and start restoring damaged mangrove areas.

“Why invest in white sand when you can plant mangrove forests and sea grasses that would restore and balance its marine ecosystem?” he said.

“No amount of white sand and external beauty can restore Manila Bay if such destructive projects are going through,” he pointed out.

Amid the efforts of DENR, Hicap noted that the department approved the reclamation projects in Bacoor City, and also Bulakan town where “mangrove forest was cut down and local crab production is now threatened.”

Not natural to bay

Ocean conservation organization Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos asked the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR Resources to step in to this planned project by the agency.

Citing the Fisheries Code, Local Government Code, and Environmental Impact Assessment System Act, OCEANA said agencies should undergo Environmental Impact Study process and Environmental Compliance Certificate.

“Ironically, it is the DENR that does not seem to follow the requirements set by law,” Ramos told GMA News Online.

Oceana expressed alarm that the white sand is not the natural substance of the surface of the concerned portion of the bay.

Aside from destroying the natural ecosystem in Manila Bay, Oceana said the government may also damage the environment of the source of the white sand.

According to the group, the government needs hundreds of tons of sand and this would have dire impact on the coastal integrity of the source of the substrate.

“This will be a total waste of people’s money. Panahon na ng mga bagyo at malakas ang hampas ng alon sa Manila Bay pag may bagyo,” Ramos said.

“The sand will be simply washed away by the waves and will mix with the black sand which is the natural element of this part of Manila Bay,” she added.

Ramos pointed out that many will be happier if the DENR will "not touch the coasts and let Nature heal."

She added that the DENR should ensure full compliance with environmental laws—which are not being respected and followed, even by government agencies.

“Government resources should be allocated more into helping Filipinos affected by the pandemic,” Ramos said.

“Bakit inuuna ang purely aesthetic program sa rehabilitation ng Manila Bay? Para kanino itong programa na ito? Does the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) not know that they are destroying the coasts?” she added.

The DENR is planning to fill 500 meters of the Baywalk on Roxas Boulevard with white sand under the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program.

“Gagawin white sand itong, dito sa may bay walk area para makita ng tao na kapag puti ang kulay ng isang bagay, kailangan pangalagaan mo ito at ‘wag mo dumihan,” DENR undersecretary Benny Antiporda said. — BM, GMA News

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