DENR: Multisectoral approach, cultural change needed to rehabilitate Manila Bay

The rehabilitation of the waters of Manila Bay requires a multisectoral approach and cultural change.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said this last Sunday as he called for a concerted effort among all sectors to clean up one of the country’s most polluted water bodies even as he vowed to go after Manila Bay’s polluters.

In a statement, Cimatu said under his watch, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would be stricter in enforcing laws on solid waste and wastewater to address the worsening pollution problem in the historic bay.

“The DENR is changing its paradigm of enforcement, prioritizing and doing a clean sweep of all dischargers of volume and toxic wastewater, randomizing inspections, imposing holidays on those who have not secured wastewater-discharge permits and raising penalties and surcharges for those who still do not have them after the prescribed amnesty period,” Cimatu said.

The DENR chief unveiled the plans of his department during the first consultation meeting with Manila Bay stakeholders held at the DENR central office in Quezon City last Monday.

He said such plans would help the DENR comply more effectively with the writ of continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court in 2008, directing the DENR and 13 other government agencies to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay.

The operational plan involves the removal of illegal structures along the bay and its tributaries, which will require the relocation of people living in danger zones along the stretch of Manila Bay.

He also blamed people living along Manila Bay for the degradation of the water body.

“These people are discharging directly into our waterways so it is no surprise that fecal coliform is very high in our urban water bodies,” he pointed out.

With about 30 percent of the country’s population live within the Manila Bay basin and 17 river systems draining into it, Cimatu said it was not surprising the world-famous sunset destination is the country’s “most polluted body of water and an urgent rehabilitation project.”

Citing a 2008 World Bank report, Cimatu said the country’s economic losses from neglecting sewage can reach up to P78 billion a year, which is on top of the losses in ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Besides this, he added, water-borne diseases were killing up to 55 Filipinos a day.

“As we embrace modernity and cultivate a cosmopolitan city, with gleaming shopping malls and hotels, we can still only claim to have sewage treatment for 15 percent of Metro Manila. This is an even lower percentage than Dhaka, Bangladesh or Pnom Penh, Cambodia,” Cimatu lamented.

“Caring for the environment is like brushing your teeth, you have to do it every day,” he stressed.

Manila Bay was found to contain domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, leachate from garbage dumps and runoff from chemical agriculture.

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