By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
Last Sunday’s launch of the “biggest battle of them all” to rehabilitate and restore Manila Bay to its former glory is undoubtedly the most ambitious cleanup program that would test government’s resolve to go all-out and get full support from the people to overcome formidable obstacles that have plagued previous efforts to combat environmental degradation.
“This is a battle that will be won not with force or arms but with the firm resolve to bring Manila Bay back to life,” Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said. “With the commitment and determination of every Filipino to do his share in this rehabilitation effort, we have already won the battle for Manila Bay.”
At a cost of P43 billion, the massive cleanup drive targeted to be finished by 2022 spans a 190 km coastline and a total area of 1,994 kilometers extending across the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon region.
Apart from commercial and industrial establishments, more than a million informal settlers are situated along estuaries that discharge all sorts of waste into Manila Bay which is reported to have a coliform level of 330 million MPN (most probable number) per 100 milliliters, with some areas of the bay at 1 billion MPN – a far cry from the acceptable level of 100 MPN per 100 ml.
How Manila Bay, world-famous for a view of the golden sunset, is plagued with massive environmental degradation has been obvious all these years with the all-too-familiar sight after heavy rains: Tons of plastic trash and all forms of debris and filth floating by the breakwater.
Improper garbage disposal is indeed a habit so difficult to break for many people, in spite of common knowledge that littering and indiscriminate throwing of all sorts of trash – particularly plastics, styropore, and other non-biodegradable materials – end up clogging drainage systems, canals, esteros, and rivers, with part of the plastic debris finding its way into the sea. Also dumped into the water tributaries connecting to Manila Bay are wastes from livestock farms and households without septic tanks.
Effective waste disposal can be found in RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, but Sen. Loren Legarda, author of the law, laments that more than a decade after it was enacted in 2001, most local government units have yet to comply with its provisions.
Citing the case of Manila Bay, Legarda said in 2015: “Out of 178 LGUs in the Manila Bay region, only 51 percent are compliant with segregation-at-source; 50 percent for segregated collection; 44 percent with functional Materials Recovery Facilities; and 30 percent with the allowed disposal facilities/ sanitary landfills. Only two of the concerned LGUs have an approved 10-Year Solid Waste Management Plan.”
The worsening degradation of Manila Bay can be traced back to the 1990s, prompting a group of environmental activists led by lawyer Antonio Oposa to file a landmark lawsuit in 1999 asking 13 government agencies to clean up the area. In 2008, the Supreme Court “issued a continuing mandamus that required government agencies named in the lawsuit to report to the high court every three months on the progress of the bay’s rehabilitation until its completion.” Despite the order, the degradation continued.
Efforts are now underway to get LGUs deeply involved in the extensive cleanup campaign. DILG Secretary Eduardo Año issued memo circular 2019-19 on January 24 which states: “All 178 Cities and Municipalities, and all 5,714 Barangays in the Manila Bay Watershed Area shall organize a clean-up drive which shall be conducted in areas, such as, but not limited to, coastal areas and/or inland water systems in their respective localities on a weekly basis, starting on Sunday, January 27, 2019, and every Sunday thereafter.”
The DILG memo adds: “LGUs may organize a network of volunteers, non-government organizations, civil society organizations, academe, etc. to encourage participation from different stakeholders in the conduct of the clean-up drives.”
I find Sec. Año’s memo circular highly significant if indeed all concerned LGUs throw their utmost support to the ambitious cleanup campaign. To encourage full cooperation of the citizenry, it means LGUs would have to be unrelenting in their efforts to change the mindset of Filipinos towards proper waste disposal.
All of us have a civic duty to protect the environment. With a disciplined citizenry taking a collective stand against irresponsible trash disposal, this gargantuan task of rehabilitating Manila Bay – described by Sec. Cimatu as the “biggest battle of them all” – can be achieved.
Even the simple gesture of refraining from mindlessly throwing on the street a candy wrapper or cigarette butt could make a difference. Especially so if we bear in mind what St. Mother Teresa used to say: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of the missing drop.”
And as Christians, we ought to heed the papal encyclical to avert degradation of the environment. Let’s draw inspiration from Pope Francis who wrote: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”