Law on Manila Bay rehab, gov't policy on discharge water sought

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2019 02:05 PM | Updated as of Feb 07 2019 02:23 PM

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MANILA - Plans to clean up Manila Bay will need a law to ensure continuity of its rehabilitation plus policies on quality of discharge water coming from government offices, an environment official and advocate said Thursday.

Environment Undersecretary Sherwin Rigor said one of the biggest polluters of Manila Bay, according a recent water sampling, turned out to be Government Service Insurance System. This would have to be revalidated, however, because the agency's office was being repaired when the test was done, he said.

In a statement posted on its website on Monday, GSIS said it will "immediately take steps to address the notice of violation" served to its head office.

The agency will upgrade its sewage treatment plant into a more cost-effective and low-maintenance system to support the environment, said President and General Manager Jesus Clint Aranas.

Rigor said there was no policy yet imposed on government offices that they need to discharge a certain quality of water. "But there has to be one," he said, adding that it is important as the national government conducts a massive cleanup of the bay.

"We are now making a mandatory policy to be issued to all government offices that they need to be part of this Manila Bay rehab development and sourcing it from their own funds," he told ANC's Early Edition.

Apart from GSIS, 3 groups of companies under the SM conglomerate were also the big polluters of Manila Bay, said Rigor.

The Laguna Lake Development Authority last month issued a cease and desist order against Aristocrat Restaurant, Gloria Maris Sharksfin, and The Esplanade San Miguel after these were classified as sources of “pollutive wastewater” in the bay.

The same was issued against Billion Building, HK Sun Plaza, Tramway Bayview Buffet and D Circle Hotel, which are all located near Manila Bay.

The LLDA also issued a notice of violation to Sogo Hotel-Quirino, the Government Service Insurance System, Peak Motors Philippines Inc, Makchang Korean Restaurant, 2Blue Realty Corp, Cebuana Lhuiller Building and Robinsons Place Manila.

An ex-parte order meanwhile was issued to Le Mirage de Malate, Smart Land Resources and Malate Bayview Mansion.

In the interview with ANC, Rodne Galicha, Philippine manager of Washington-based The Climate Reality Project, noted that there were no stiff penalties except for suspension for not following the continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court that directed 13 government agencies to rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay.

"What if we do a legislation to rehabilitate Manila Bay and put more funds on it if we are quite serious? Then again, it’s the integration of all the development plans of all government units," he said in the same interview.

Rigor said even while waiting for a law to be enacted, a cleanup of the Manila Bay can go on.

"We don’t have to wait. Habang ginagawa namin yan, Congress will need to work on enactment," he said, adding that lawmakers are "seeing the situation for a continuity and sustainability of Manila Bay because government is putting up and investing money right now."

Lawyer Tony Oposa, who led the petition that sought the continuing mandamus, calls the Manila Bay "an unflushed toilet bowl," 10 years since the Supreme Court handed the decision.

In a column written by Jarius Bondoc and published on the website of broadsheet Philippine Star, Oposa suggested 3 focuses of the rehab: garbage, sewage and septage, and squatter relocation.

The public should learn and practice segregation, composting, and recycling. Enforcers should also do their part, enforcing separation of wet and dry wastes, and operating materials recovery facilities, the column said quoting Oposa.

Additionally, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System should answer why the bacteria levels in Manila Bay still rose from 1 million to 330 million units despite water concessionaires charging a sewerage fee in the monthly bills of its customers since 1997, he said.

Housing and local government officials should also work on relocating the illegal settlers. Idle government lands, which the column estimates to be in the thousands, could be used for in-city tenement housing with proper parks and sewerage, it said.

A warning from President Rodrigo Duterte to establishments along the famed bay to observe environmental rules or face closure has prompted a fresh vigor in cleaning up Manila Bay.

Sightseers have recently frequented Manila Bay, known for its picturesque view of the sunset, after pictures of its clean shores surfaced online. Authorities, however, had to shutter a part of the coast after several jumped into the water which still had high fecal coliform content.