MANILA— Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Wednesday said the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach ground commander has been relieved after the controversial influx of visitors to the area over the weekend.
In a press briefing, Cimatu said Jacob Meimban, deputy executive director of the Manila Bay Coordinating Office, would be replaced by retired general Reuel Sorilla.
Sorilla is currently officer-in-charge of the Environmental Law Enforcement and Protection Service.
This came after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recorded a total of 121,744 individuals that went to the artificial white beach on Sunday despite the continuing COVID-19 threat.
Cimatu pointed out that he ordered Meimban's relief to give way to the investigation as to why the number of visitors ballooned on a single day.
“The incident was overcrowding and to find out why nag-overcrowd? This is the reason.. And so ang aking nakita rito (what I see here) is the enforcement. We have the plans, we have some plans na ginawa (that we made), we anticipated it but nagkasobra pa rin (but it was still too much)," the official explained.
"That’s the reason why on the enforcement issue, that’s the reason why I’m putting somebody to help the enforcement and become the ground commander for the action to be corrected in the future. That’s why I selected a retired general for enforcement," said Cimatu, a former chief of staff of the armed forces.
Cimatu also apologized for the incident, and promised it would not happen again.
Meimban, on his part, said he was accepting the order.
“I abide with the decision of my secretary to be relieved immediately as the ground commander of the baywalk area especially the dolomite beach,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DENR said it would not require the thousands of individuals who flocked to the dolomite beach to take a COVID-19 test.
Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda pointed out that authorities are asking the visitors to undergo self-quarantine and self-test, instead.
Contact tracing will also be "considered," he added.
“Di naman kailangan umabot sa ganun pa. They can conduct their self-quarantine naman. Makikita naman natin the numbers when it comes to COVID, pababa na. We're not saying na lusot tayo because of the big crowd. 'Yung mga di naka-facemask sinisita at sinasabihan na mag-facemask at cooperative naman mga taong pumunta," Antiporda said.
"The next decision of the DENR or the Inter-Agency Task Force, the contact tracing will be deeply considered in our next decision to make sure if there will be such incident ma-contact trace mga tao,” Antiporda said.
DENR earlier said that the dolomite beach will be closed to the public from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. and every Fridays for maintenance purposes.
The agency will still decide whether they will open it to the public again or leave it closed to give way to phase 2 of the controversial project, where more dolomite sand would be dumped for the completion of the project area.
Environmental groups earlier urged government to stop putting more dolomite at the Manila Bay, and instead use project funds for the COVID-19 crisis.
But government hopes the project would revive businesses along Roxas Boulevard, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda had said.
DENR added that it would also prioritize improving the water quality, by achieving a fecal coliform level of 100 MPN per 100 milligrams.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire urged the public to avoid crowded areas and reminded authorities to enforce minimum health standards.
Malacañang also appealed to the public to observe COVID-19 protocols and reminded police to enforce distancing rules in the area.