DENR to continue Manila Bay white beach project, says crushed dolomite 'won't be washed away'

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 09 2020 09:23 PM

People flock to the Manila Bay during the temporary opening of the “white sand” project in time for International Coastal Clean Up Day on September 19, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — An official from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Friday the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, particularly the beautification of its beach portion where crushed dolomite was dumped, will continue. 

This, despite strong opposition from environmental groups and experts over the synthetic white sand's allegedly harmful environmental effects around the area. 

Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones, defending DENR's 2021 budget before the Senate's Finance Committee, said the difficulty in procuring the dolomite would only pose a small problem in the rehabilitation efforts. 

"Ang dolomite lang ang nagka-problem doon... [The] dredging, silting [and] water quality improvement tuloy-tuloy pa rin po sa loob ng Bay walk. Ang nagkaroon lang ng problema ay yung small portion but the project would still continue," Leones said.

(It's only the dolomite that had problems on the rehabilitation, the dredging, silting, and water quality improvement continued inside the Bay walk. We only had a problem on a small portion but the project would still continue.)

In September, during the height of the dolomite dumping controversy on Manila Bay, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu suspended the operations of two dolomite mining firms in Alcoy, Cebu, where government sourced the synthetic white sand. 

Before Cimatu's move, the Cebu Provincial Government issued a cease and desist order against the two firms, saying shipment of crushed dolomite to Manila was done without public consultation.

"Nagkaroon lang po ng problema sa private transaction nung private contractor nung dolomite. At saka nagkaroon po ng violation yung supplier natin sa Cebu, but wala naman pong epekto sa atin," he added. 

(We had a problem on our transactions with the dolomite's private contractor. We also found out that our supplier in Cebu had violations but this did not affect our project.) 

Leones added that the dolomite serves as an "enhancer" of the sand dumped on Manila Bay for the beautification project.

Responding to observations that the crushed dolomite was washed out to sea just days after being dumped, he said it's normal. 

He also claimed that the sand on the artificial beach won't be washed away by storms and large waves because the department has installed geotubes, and submerged machines, around the perimeter of the man-made beach. 

"Ito pong beach nourishment natin, in a regular, natural situation, talaga namang paalis-alis ang sand doon pero pabalik-balik din po because of the wave action. Pero kung permanently washed out, hindi naman... because we have already instituted engineering works [and] intervention," he said. 

(This beach nourishment we are doing, in a regular, natural situation, sand would be washed away but it would also naturally return due to the wave action. But if people fear it would be permanently washed out, it won't happen because we have already instituted engineering intervention.)

Geotubes, he said, would prevent strong currents from washing away the sand. 

"Ibig pong sabihin kahit malakas po yung [wave] doon, doon lang po sa perimeter naglalaro yung sand like the normal beaches... Would it be totally washed out? Palagay ko po hindi dahil may engineering intervention doon." 

(If large wave hits, the sand would only be around the perimeter just like in the normal beaches. It won't erode. It won't be washed out because we installed engineering interventions already.)

Senator Imee Marcos, meanwhile, raised the negative reaction of Cebu local officials amid the DENR’s use of crushed dolomite.

“The point really is, it’s not naturally occurring and that it was quarried in Cebu where apparently the provincial government as well as the mayors were unhappy about the quarrying and ordered the cease and desist. So ano ba talaga? Talaga bang pollutant itong dolomite?” Marcos asked.

(What's the truth? Are dolomites pollutant?)

Cimatu said crushed dolomite is not hazardous to the environment. 

“We say no. It’s not hazardous,” Cimatu said.

The DENR is proposing a P25.5 billion budget for 2021, of which P1.32 billion would be used to continue the Manila Bay rehabilitation project. 

Focus on rehabilitation, not beautification 

Senator Nancy Binay, however, urged DENR to focus on cleaning the water of Manila Bay instead of spending a portion of its already limited budget for the bay's beautification. 

"Ang dapat main goal is to clean the water. Maganda po talaga yugn nakikita ngayon na white sand pero kung babalikan natin, madumi pa rin ang tubig. Ang goal ultimately.... sana yung puwede nang mag-swimming diyan... dahil malinis na ang tubig," Binay said. 

(Our main goal is to clean the water. We appreciate seeing the white sand but if we would go back to the main problem, the water is still dirty. Our ultimate goal is to reach the point where we could swim in Manila Bay because the water's already clean.) 

The senator reminded the DENR that its purpose is to clean and protect the environment. 

Cimatu, meanwhile, said the department's goal is to transform Manila Bay into a tourism area with 500 meters of the bay’s view beside the United States Embassy dressed in synthetic white sand. 

— With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News