MANILA — Several environmental groups on Tuesday criticized the government’s decision to dump crushed dolomite on Manila Bay as part of a beautification program, saying the project violates a law that requires Manila Bay to be preserved as a historical landmark.
“We are alarmed that the P398-million Manila Bay beautification project is being implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) without compliance with our national laws, amid the very challenging COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis we face,” read the position paper signed by Oceana, Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Phil. Earth Justice Center, Inc., Archdiocese of Manila - Ministry on Ecology, Integrated Rural Development Foundation, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Tambuyog Development Center, Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (PaNaGat) Network, and Dr. Jurgenne H. Primavera, Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor of Zoological Society of London.
The groups pointed out that Manila Bay was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2012 and is protected by the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
“The act mandates that the bay ‘shall be maintained as close to their appearance at the time the area was of most importance to Philippine history as determined by the National Historical Institute,’” they said in the position paper that will be sent to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, both chambers of Congress, the Ombudsman, the National Historical Commission and the Manila City local government.
“We condemn this project and it must be stopped as it has not undergone an environmental impact assessment nor a consultative and participatory process in both Manila Bay and in Cebu, as to its environmental impacts, thereby violating several environmental laws,” the position paper further read.
On top of the National Cultural Heritage Act, the groups said among the laws that might have been violated due to the lack of a full environmental assessment and consultations are Environmental Impact System Laws and regulations, the Fisheries Code, the Clean Water Act, and the Local Government Code.
The groups said such dump-and-fill activities, especially with Manila Bay’s gray shoreline to be covered with dolomite, can cause aquatic pollution, marine habitat degradation, loss of globally important waterbird site, loss of sardine spawning grounds, and loss of mangroves and wetland areas
“Manila Bay is also a key biodiversity area identified by the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and a sardine spawning ground identified by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources through the National Fisheries Research Development Institute,” they added.
In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, reiterating the importance of Manila Bay as a sea resource, playground, and as a historical landmark. It said the State has to take the lead in the preservation and protection of the Manila Bay.
“The dumping of crushed dolomite boulders in Manila Bay can only be described as an abdication of that grave responsibility to protect and preserve Manila Bay. This is happening at the time when our nation faces serious health, economic and climate crises,” Oceana and the other groups said.
The groups said a full-blown environmental impact assessment must be done to understand first the effect of dolomite on the natural ecosystem, as well as their effect on people.
The Department of Health on Monday said the crushed dolomite can cause respiratory issues.
Citing data from the the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), the environmental groups also argued that sea-level rise will merely “lay to waste the funds expended for this beautification project” as sea level rise in the area is believed to be four times faster than the global average rate of 3.2 millimeters a year.
Oceana and the other groups said depositing any material into bodies of water is also prohibited in the Clean Water Act.
In their position paper, the groups asked the government to focus instead on pollution and ecological degradation in the area.
They also asked the concerned agencies, as well as both chambers of Congress to investigate why the beautification project pushed through.