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Manila Bay clean-up is long overdue

For many years now, Sen. Cynthia Villar has led clean-up campaigns in Manila Bay, particularly in the Las Piñas-Parañaque area, with hundreds of volunteers collecting garbage and other solid wastes.

At the latest cleanup operation at the Baseco compound in Tondo, Manila, and the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area last week, the 300 volunteers collected truckloads of wastes , including non-biodegradable packaging for consumer products like soap and shampoo, other personal care items, and food. The senator was moved to appeal to manufacturers of these products to join the coastal clean-up effort as part of their corporate social responsibility programs.

These plastic wastes are only part of the problem that has made Manila Bay a dangerous and unhealthy place which has been declared off-limits to swimmers, skin-divers, and bathers. Several rivers, with pollution of all kinds, flow into the bay not only from Metro Manila but also from surrounding provinces. The Pasig River alone has thousands of factories and squatter homes along its banks and those of the many esteros that flow into it.

In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision ordering 13 government agencies to “clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, restore and maintain its waters to make them fit for swimming, skin diving, and other forms of contact recreation.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was designated the primary agency responsible for implementing the court order. It was ordered to call regular coordination meetings with the other agencies, each of which was given specific instructions.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), for example, was ordered to direct all local governments in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan to inspect all factories and houses along the banks of their rivers and require them to have hygienic facilities to prevent industrial and human wastes from flowing into Manila Bay.

Similar and related instructions were given to several other agencies – among them the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Department of Health (DoH), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

That was eight years ago and “no significant improvement can be seen in the bay,” Senator Villar said after last week’s clean-up drive. “Manila Bay is a historical landmark. It is known in the world because of its breathtaking sunset. Over 300,000 fishermen depend on it for their livelihood. We owe it to our children to rehabilitate and preserve it so that they will continue to reap its benefits,” she added.

Among the many concerns that the incoming Duterte administration will be facing in the coming months and years, we urge it to include a cleanup of Manila Bay. The Supreme Court saw the problem years ago and issued specific instructions to 13 agencies of the government but the problem of a heavily polluted bay remains. The new administration, we hope, will succeed where previous ones have failed.