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The same steely political will to clean up Manila Bay



THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has set its sights on the coastal areas around Manila Bay as its next target for a massive cleanup after Boracay. Early this month, Secretary Roy Cimatu told officials of provinces and towns around the bay of plans for the coming cleanup drive.

At the center of the drive is Metro Manila on the eastern shore of the bay, whose Pasig River spews out massive amounts of sewage. To the west is Bataan, to the north are Pampanga and Bulacan, and to the south is Cavite, all of them with rivers carrying pollution from all around the bay.

Early this week, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo declared that President Duterte is prepared to show political will to enforce the cleanup of Manila Bay, to the extent of closing down polluting establishments in the cities and provinces around it. What the government did in Boracay, he said, it will also do in Manila Bay.

The President, he said, is expected to issue an executive order to set in motion the cleanup plan being prepared by the DENR. Funds from the Road Users Tax may be used to carry out the rehabilitation projects around the bay and its tributaries.

A look at the Philippine map shows the hugeness of the problem. The waters of Manila Bay are more than a hundred times bigger than those of Boracay. And the fecal coliform bacterial level in the bay has now reached 350 MPN (Most Probable Number), compared to the 100 MPN around Boracay when it was closed down for six months last May.

Ten years ago, in 2008, the Supreme Court, acting on the complaint of a citizens group, issued a decision ordering 13 government agencies led by the DENR to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay. It is only now that the national government is finally moving to carry out the court order.

It took great political will to close down Boracay, the country’s top tourist destination, for six months. Many hotels and other establishments without proper sewage treatment facilities were polluting the surrounding waters which had become a cesspool, to use the term used by President Duterte.

Manila Bay has long been a bigger cesspool than Boracay. It will take a tremendous amount of political will to compel the polluting towns and cit­ies with their factories and their millions of homes spewing their untreated sewage into the streams and rivers flowing into the bay. But, after Boracay, we are confident that President Duterte will carry out this cleanup with the same steely political will.