MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is bringing the Boracay experience to the country's capital, as it began dumping powdery-white sand on the baywalk of Manila Bay.
“Kung hindi man sila makapunta ng Boracay, Bohol, Palawan, or Cebu. Itong mga kababayan sa Maynila, ilalapit natin sa kanila ang white sand dito sa baywalk area,” Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told ABS-CBN News.
He clarified the sand was only synthetic because transporting natural white sand from coastal areas was prohibited.
“The sand that came to Manila is not actually sand. It came from dolomite boulders that was crushed and turned into sand from Cebu. Kasi bawal 'yung sand na ibiyahe na galing sa mga coastal natin,” he said.
For environment group Greenpeace Philippines, the project is unnecessary, with the cleanup far from over.
"Ito bang pinagkuhanan nito wala din bang environmental impact? Paano mo ico-contain ito? 'Pag nagkaroon ba tayo ng storm surges ito ba ay dahan-dahan na makakain? And at the same time ito bang tinambakan eh malinis na ba?” the group's campaigner Sonny Batungbacal told ABS-CBN News.
(Will this have no environmental impact? How will you contain this? What happens when there are storm surges? Is the dumping area truly clean?)
Batungbacal added that the dumping of sand does not add to the objective of cleaning the Manila Bay.
“[If the] objective is to save Manila Bay by cleaning it up, putting materials on top of the uncleaned environment would not help,” he said.
Environmental group Kalikasan earlier urged Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagaso" to halt the dumping operations.
"We urge Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and other government agencies mandated to rehabilitate Manila Bay to immediately halt this dump-and-fill reclamation activity. This should be investigated if it underwent proper impact assessment and social acceptability procedures," the group said in a statement Wednesday.
The group said "improper sand dumping" can cause various effects to the existing ecosystem in the area noting that the place is "not dead."
"May we remind Mayor Moreno that Manila Bay is not dead. In fact, the Sardinella Pacifica, a new sardine species only available in the Philippines, was discovered in the waters of Manila Bay just last year. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources itself said Manila’s waters are potential sardine conservation areas," it added.
Kalikasan also reminded President Rodrigo Duterte's promise "not to allow any proposed reclamation projects in Manila Bay."
"We should heed the living lessons from the still raging COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged from the spillover of the virus from wildlife into human populations, if we are to ensure food security, public health, and disaster risk reduction caused by the further loss of our fragile ecosystems."
Advocacy group Oceana Philippines also expressed alarm that dumping sand in Manila Bay could negatively affect its natural ecosystem.
"This will be a total waste of people’s money. Panahon na ng mga bagyo at malakas ang hampas ng alon sa Manila Bay pag may bagyo. The sand will be simply washed away by the waves and will mix with the black sand which is the natural element of this part of Manila Bay," Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said in a statement.
"Government resources should be allocated more into helping Filipinos affected by the pandemic,” Ramos added.
But Antiporda defended the project, saying this was a clear reminder to the public to take care of Manila Bay.
“This is an awareness project telling the people to do their responsibility to take care of the environment. Kailangan kumilos na tayo na magtulong-tulong na tayo,” he said.
He, however, admitted that the water in Manila Bay was still far from the ideal cleanliness that would make it safe for the public to swim in.
The target is 200 most probable number (MPN) of fecal coliform level, he said.
When the Manila bay rehab started 2 years ago, the fecal coliform level in Manila Bay reached as high as 330 million MPN.
If the DENR achieves the 200 MPN, Antiporda said the public would already be allowed to swim.