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Swim at your own risk

by Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Every summer, bathers still soak themselves in the poor man’s beach – Manila Bay – totally unmindful of the health hazards posed by swimming in the bay’s extremely polluted waters.

While swimming in Manila Bay is expressly prohibited, authorities merely look the other way.“Pagbigyan na natin. Hindi naman kasi sila makakapunta sa Boracay,” an enforcer once said.

Without any doubt, Manila Bay’s breath-taking sunset remains one of our tourist come-ons. But if you know what is good for your health, don’t you try swimming in its cesspool.

A research conducted by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute confirmed what has long been an open secret about Manila Bay.

“The waters of Manila Bay are the most polluted in the country, serving as a giant waste-dump for the metropolis. Here, domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, leachate from garbage dumps and runoff from chemical agriculture converge into a hideous cocktail.”

The research further showed that “unprocessed waste ending up in the bay has resulted in high levels of fecal coliform and the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and excess feeds in its waters.”

The Department of Health acknowledges that continuous direct exposure to these pollutants “may cause cancer, immune system disease, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, congenital malformation and developmental disorders, and many other diseases.”

How do you measure the quality of Manila Bay’s water?

The authorities have set up monitoring stations along the shorelines around Manila Bay. These stations are located along Noveleta, Tanza, Naic, Bacoor and Rosario in Cavite, Limay and Mariveles in Bataan, Navotas Fishport and Rizal Park in Manila.

These monitoring stations measure fecal and total coliform. Coliform is a bacteria found in the human and animal waste. The acceptable coliform count for “swimmable” waters is 1,000 MPN (most probable number per 100 milliliters). However, an official in the know estimates coliform count in the Manila Bay area as “in the millions.”

Years ago, alarmed bay area residents filed a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the authorities to stop the further degradation of Manila Bay.

The Supreme Court responded by issuing a continuing mandamus directing 11 government agencies, led by DENR, to clean up and to restore Manila Bay back to health.

The Supreme Court wanted Manila Bay to be once again “swimmable” and fit for other aquatic activities. The Supreme Court also set a deadline, long since past, for the authorities to get their acts together.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what needs to be done to stop the further degradation of Manila Bay. Already, there is an alphabet soup of studies and operational plans which are in place. (Eg., OPMBCS under the ESWMA)
These plans invariably revolve around three buzz words: education, engineering and enforcement. Other plans identify three issues that need to be addressed, namely: solid waste management, liquid waste management and informal settlers.

All these are well and good. So what else is lacking?

You have guessed it correctly: political will.

Unless somebody really steps up, all these plans of the authorities will just be PPP – Puro Power Presentation.

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