By: Althea Ocomen
The Philippine government, specifically the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, decided to create a rehabilitation project as a means to furthers solve the land-based and sea-based sources of pollution to harmful algal blooms, subsidence and groundwater extraction, overexploitation of fishery resources, and habitat conversion and degradation of Manila Bay. However, because of the P28 million budget allocated into the dolomite sand, critics of the project are worried about the health implications this will result among the children.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the budget and funds of the P389 million came from the 2019 General Appropriation Act intended for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. However, these funds were used for the beautification of the bay which is different from rehabilitation. Beautification is the process of improving the appearance and aesthetics of a location, wherein rehabilitation is the action of restoring a place that has been damaged to its former condition which also improves the health of the location’s environment. The beautification of Manila Bay has improved the appearance of the bay but the material of the sand, dolomite, acts as a major hazard to marine life and Filipinos as they can affect their health and the environment, which makes the budget misplaced.
Although the appealing appearance of the white sand used in the beautification project may seem to attract more tourists, the crushed dolomite used in the sand can lead to adverse irritation, especially in the respiratory system, when inhaled which can drive away tourists from visiting. Crushed dolomite also contains high amounts of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and aluminum, which contribute to pollution and acidity in the waters of Manila Bay. The pollution and acidity contained in the sand can end up affecting marine life as it causes stress to the fish living underwater, this stress can weaken their immune system and lead them to die. When these fishes continue to die, fishermen have a more difficult time catching fish which can lead to an economy and business drop.
The DENR's project of beautifying Manila Bay, specifically the addition of white sand, is an unnecessary expense and a waste of the department's allocation of budget. In case of the occurrence of typhoons, (which are extremely frequent in our country), flooding would most likely occur due to the excessive amount of water brought by the rain, that could overflow the bay and eventually cause flooding within the areas surrounding Manila Bay. This flooding may also cause the surrounding establishments, infrastructures, and communities to experience severe damage that will cost even more financial aid and reconstruction. Though the funds for this project is part of the DENR’s budget, (and was decided already since last 2019), the money used for the extraction and addition of the sand could have been used for more relevant and appropriate issues covered by the DENR, such as solving the problems of deforestation and wildfires in the country.
It is illegitimate for DENR to continue the beautification of Manila Bay because of the severe health crisis we are currently undergoing, which requires a larger allocation of funds. The beautification of Manila Bay could also not come at a worse time. There are still thousands of new COVID-19 cases daily, and the pandemic’s end is still out of sight. The health sector still needs all the help it can get, especially as the DOH faces severe budget cuts next year. Allegedly, only P28 million was spent on the dolomite rocks. Even so, it is part of a larger project that can be safely put off until after the pandemic. Funds for it could be realigned to support more urgent spending needs, such as much-needed health equipment, economic aid, or educational modules for distance learning. If the synthetic white sand gets swept away by the next big storm, it’s literally throwing millions of pesos into the sea.
The fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) stressed that instead of the white beach project, the government should have covered the 13,000 hectares of Manila Bay’s coast with mangroves. Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said mangroves serve many important purposes to the marine environment and coastal communities. Its amenities include community defense against strong waves, storm surges, flood regulation, sediment trapping, marine wildlife habitat, and nurseries.
The Pamalakaya pointed out that mangrove planting costs at least P28,881 per hectare, which means that the P389-million budget for the Manila Bay “white sand” filling would be sufficient to turn 13,469 hectares of Manila Bay into mangrove forests, which could serve as “fish sanctuary, pollution filter, and coastal communities protection.” The fisherfolk group said thousands of hectares of mangroves were destroyed due to the government's massive reclamation projects favoring commercial and industrial hubs. It added that in the 1990s, mangroves in Manila Bay used to cover 54,000 hectares but they have significantly shrunk to 2,000 hectares after a few years of industrialization. The beautification of Manila Bay is unjustified and does not go in line with Philippine’s national priorities such as providing education and healthcare.
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