Akbayan wants DENR cited in contempt over fake beach

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 25 2020 05:43 AM | Updated as of Sep 25 2020 07:15 AM

Workers spread white sand along a portion of the Baywalk in Manila Bay on September 3, 2020 as part of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program by the DENR. The white sand, which comes from Cebu, is spread from the banks of the bay near the US Embassy to the Yacht Club. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA – A citizen’s group has asked the Supreme Court to cite the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in contempt of court for violating a court order to clean and preserve Manila Bay when it dumped “fake” sand on “dolomite beach.”

Akbayan Citizen’s Action Party, represented by former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales, filed on Thursday a motion seeking to intervene in a case decided by the high court in 2008 which ordered the DENR to “clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters…to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving and other forms of contact recreation.”

The purpose for the intervention is to hold the DENR responsible for supposedly violating the court order. A non-party to a case is not allowed to file any pleading without permission from the court.

“AKBAYAN believes that the artificial beach enhancement project is a danger to the environment. Specifically, AKBAYAN believes that the dolomite dumping operations of the DENR along Manila Bay was done in utter and complete disregard and violation of the continuing mandamus judgment issued for Manila Bay’s rehabilitation,” it said in its motion for leave to intervene.

“Moreover, AKBAYAN sees the act as an additional health risk to the public at large,” it added.

Rosales was joined by Center for Youth Advocacy executive director Rafaela Mae David and Akbayan Youth Chair Dr. Raymond John Naguit.

“Ang Korte Suprema natin mismo ang nagsabi na dapat meron talagang responsibilidad ang DENR para linisin ang Manila Bay. Pero yun nga, dahil hindi sinunod ito, nakikita natin na meron talagang kapabayaan ang DENR,” Naguit said during the filing.

The DENR and the Department of Public Works and Highways spent P389 million to dump artificial white sand along Manila Bay Walk, which is actually crushed dolomite rock sourced from Cebu.

According to AKBAYAN, dolomite is “unnatural and synthetic” to Manila Bay and could have adverse effects on the health and well-being of residents and on the ecosystem itself.

“The fear of negative effects of DENR’s act of dumping dolomite sand along Manila Bay Walk is not unreasonable: dolomite contains varying levels of crystalline silica that can damage human lungs, cause cancer when breathed in, and irritate the skin and eyes,” the group’s motion to cite in contempt said, quoting a 2012 safety report of a Texas-based corporation that supplies building materials.

The group also relied on Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie’s previous statement that dolomite could pose health risks including eye irritation and gastrointestinal discomfort while Oceana Philippines noted possible harm on the natural ecosystem and coastal integrity

It added that the building of an artificial beach in Manila Bay is not part of its duties under the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan, the planning of which is headed by the National Development Authority (NEDA).

“A dolomite beach in Manila Bay is nothing but a window-dressing project. Disregarding the unconscionable cost at this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it might even be acceptable if it does no harm to the environment and to humans. But it does,” Akbayan said in closing.

The beautification project has generated controversy on social media as users point out the cost of the project could have been spent on efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Its public opening over the last weekend also raised concerns over observance of physical distancing, wearing of face masks and other health protocols.

The cops’ failure to control the crowd led to the sacking of a station commander.

Last week, another group called Manila Bay Watch vowed to question the project before the Supreme Court.