WE have gotten used to having many of our streets flooded during the rainy season. What happened last Saturday was something new. Garbage from Manila Bay was thrown over the seawall by strong waves from the bay and filled Roxas Boulevard from Pedro Gil to Vito Cruz.
We have now had weeks of rain brought by the southwest monsoon winds – the “habagat” – which blow at this time of the year, bearing water evaporating from the equatorial seas southwest of the Philippines. These rains have been intensified by a series of storms sweeping in from the Pacific in the east, never touching land, but drawing more of the “habagat” winds than normal.
Underground canals were built under España years ago, providing a channel so that heavy rains and floods in Quezon City and other nearby elevated areas could flow on to Manila Bay. But the many hours of rain last Saturday overwhelmed the canals and turned España into a sea. With many other streets also under water, the whole of Metro Manila became one huge traffic jam.
The garbage that filled Roxas Boulevard last Saturday raised anew another problem that has long been known but has not been acted upon. The whole of Manila Bay is full of such garbage, mostly plastic. It is a problem we share with most of the rest of the world. Millions of single-use plastic products – softdrinks straws, wrappers, bags, used toys, abandoned radio, TV, and other appliances – are disposed off every day and these find their way to sewers, some in garbage dumps, but many in the world’s rivers and oceans.
The trash that Manila Bay waves hurled onto Roxas Boulevard last Saturday was a reminder to us that this problem has not been acted upon all these years. Even worse than plastics, the sewage from millions of households in towns and cities around Manila Bay have so polluted it, that people are banned from swimming in the bay because of they are bound to get sick.
The main part of the burden naturally falls on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). During last week’s budget hearings in the House of Representatives, some congressmen raised this matter once again, but received no assurance of any kind from department officials.
In 2008, the Supreme Court, no less, directed 13 government agencies led by the DENR “to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay,” and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to work with local governments around the bay, with the goal of stopping the dumping of garbage and sewage in rivers flowing into Manila Bay. Total inaction has been the response to this court order.
So now, we have received a reminder of this inaction with the garbage thrown back at us by Manila Bay last Saturday. We showed such strong political will when we closed down Boracay because it had become a “cesspool.” We hope that we will see this political will at work on this problem so much closer to us right here.