Those who haven’t passed by the Manila Bay area recently are in for a big surprise because now covering its formerly murky baywalk is a wide expanse of powdery white sand.
According to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, the “beach nourishment project” is an effort of the agency to give a spark of hope in this time of pandemic.
“Madaming nagkakaroon ng anxiety attack sa ngayon. Kaya Secretary [Roy Cimatu] wants this to be done immediately para makita ng tao na kahit papaano, may pag-asa pa pala ang buhay,” Antiporda told ANCX in a phone interview.
“If you will look at the situation of Manila Bay before, you’d consider na parang patay na. Ngayon nabuhay natin, gusto nyang ipakita na may pag-asa pa,” he further stated.
Antiporda said the DENR would like to promote cleanliness and environmental awareness, which are crucial issues that are also connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sa isip ni Secretary [Cimatu], itong pandemic na ito ay may connection din sa nangyayari sa ating environment,” he said. “Kailangang ipakita natin sa tao na malinis ang Manila Bay to promote cleanliness of their surroundings, dahil gumaganti na sa atin ang kalikasan.”
Antiporda explained that they have a threefold objective in the beach nourishment project, with each objective given a different name by the department.
First is, “to see is to believe”—to get rid of all the garbage and other waste matter in the area. “Ngayon meron pa ring mga floating debris pakonti-konti. Dati, umaabot yan sa Roxas Boulevard, ngayon wala na. We’re looking at totally getting rid of all the trash there, of course with the help of the people,” he said.
“Kultura na kasi nating mga tao na kapag may nakita tayong puti ay hindi natin ito gagawing itim,” explained Antiporda. “Sabi ni [Secretary Cimatu], this will promote the awareness to the people na huwag dumihan ang kulay puti. Looking forward na lahat ng makikita natin sa ating kapaligiran ay mapanatili na rin nating malinis.”
Second objective is “to smell is to believe”—to make sure that the foul smell is gone. “Kung maglalakad kayo diyan ngayon, siguro naman hindi n’yo na maaamoy ang amoy na masangsang.”
The third goal, he said, is the most difficult to do, which is “to test is to believe.” The target is 200 most probable number (MPN) of fecal coliform level in the water, or lower. “We’re expecting na before the year ends ay ma-reach namin ang water quality na hinahabol namin.”
When the Manila bay rehabilitation started two years ago, the fecal coliform level in Manila Bay reached as high as 330 million MPN.
The beach nourishment project started a few months back. They started putting the “white sand” a week ago. The DENR's goal is to give the area a Boracay feel. The walkable area is about one hectare, says Antiporda.
“Noong unang panahon, medyo malapad ang beach sand natin dito. But because of the erosion, nawala na ng nawala,” he pointed out.
He also added that the “white sand” are not actually real sand but dolomite boulders from Cebu that were crushed and brought to Manila. “Kasi bawal ibiyahe ang sand na galing sa mga coastal areas natin,” he said. The texture is similar to that of limestone.
Antiporda noted that there have been engineering interventions to protect the sand, “para hindi mag-collapse.” The Department of Public Works and Highway will also have a hand in the project—the agency will build a breakwater so that the waves won’t erode the white sand. There will also be an outpost, where environmental marshals will be on watch.
The “beachfront area” will be ready in time for the International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 19, Antiporda assured. “Sa ngayon, pwede namang magpunta ang mga tao dyan, magtingin tingin, maglakad-lakad. Pero bawal pang lumangoy dahil hindi pa safe sa mga tao ang tubig,” he said.
Building structures such as stores, tents and umbrellas are prohibited. “Gagawing purely para sa pamamasyal lang ng tao yan. They can walk and watch the sunset there,” he says. Vagrants and vendors will not be allowed to stay in the area as well.
Antiporda said the DENR hopes that the Manila Bay project will be a wakeup call to Filipinos to start taking care of their environment. “Sana ang mga tao magising na. Hindi problema ang maglinis, ang problema namin yung maintenance. Dapat tao na mismo ang magbantay sa Manila Bay, hindi yung gobyerno lang,” said the undersecretary