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BELOW THE LINE

By JOSE ABETO ZAIDE

“That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went, and cannot come again.”

William Wordsworth (?)

Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

My senior memory remembers special weekend treats like evening rides on the Matorco  –  that double-decker which plied the Roxas Boulevard (for the older ones, “Dewey Boulevard”), with the conductress serving drinks and sandwiches on the route from Luneta to Baclaran.  At Baclaran, on a good day, there was a strip of beach where I could go for a swim.

When I was in high school, our mother found an apartment at the end of Bayview Drive in Tambo, Paranaque.  Our backyard extended all the way to the beach; and I came home from school in the afternoon and took a dip at Manila Bay.  Friends came to our “private beach” on weekends; it was always party time.

In the early 60s, the breakwaters reached up to our neighborhood and Roxas Boulevard cut off our beach. But we could still drive farther to Las Pinas and picnic at Ja-Le (Jalandoni-Ledesma) Beach.

***

My father, Joe F. Zaide, was press counselor at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo and extolled our beaches and the sunset of Manila Bay.  “But have you been to Rio?”, asked one of his fellow members at the Foreign Correspondents Club.

Rio de Janeiro, namesaked capital of Brazil’s third most populous state, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rio is known for its natural settings and its famous beaches – Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. (Remember “The Girl from Ipanema?”).  Famous landmarks include the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), Sugarloaf Mountain cable car, etc.

Despite all odds and after several martinis, the competition was declared a draw because Joe Zaide would not let Manila take second place to Rio.  In truth, Rio de Janeiro has many things for it, but more importantly, the Brazilians preserved the beauty of the beaches.

***

If this is not enough to make a grown-up cry…  The Manila we knew isn’t the same –  and that goes for Manila Bay, too.  Manila Bay has a coastline of 190 kms bounded by 29 settlements, including Cavite and Metro Manila on the east, Bulacan and Pampanga on the north, and Bataan on the west and northwest.  It has six islands (Corregidor, Caballo. El Fraile, Carabao, La Monia, and Limbones). It drains approximately 17,000 kms of watershed area.  With an average depth of 17 meters, it is estimated to have a total volume of 28.9 billion cubic meters. Entrance to the bay is 19 kms wide and expands to a width of 48 kms. But all of nature’s endowments are overwhelmed by over 40 years accumulated tons of refuse and garbage.

***

YET HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.  After the success at first aid job on Boracay, President Rodrigo Duterte directed his Man Friday for Environment, Roy Cimatu, to Manila Bay.   The first burst of energy excited the populace, who came in droves and collected in the succeeding days at Manila Bay and waded in the waters.

THE VERDICT.  No spoil sport, but Secretary Roy Cimatu said that recovering Manila Bay isn’t going to be an overnight wonder. It will go long and hard to undo over 40 years of neglect and abuse, and the bigger challenge is far ahead.  Manila Bay is unsafe for bathing due to high levels of “fecal coliform bacteria” in the water; so it remains a “no swimming zone.”  Fecal coliform level which can cause all types of illnesses is 330 mpn per 10 milliliters (vs. acceptable level of 100 mpn per 100 milliliters).  A four-foot fence was installed along the Manila Bay boardwalk to prevent swimming. DPWH is desilting Manila Bay waters to remove garbage which accumulated three meters deep in a survey of 1.5 kilometer stretch.  A diversion drainage along the seaside for wastewater of nearby establishments would pass a water treatment plant. Promenaders may enjoy the sunset and sunrise in Manila Bay, but nothing beyond.   Climatu projects “total rehabilitation of Manila within three to seven years” and is optimistic that “the succeeding administration would continue the good programs that we will leave involving Manila Bay.”

It may take longer than that.  But this is a challenge that all Filipinos, Manilenos most of all, should support.  Regardless of political color, we have every reason to recover for our children what we have squandered.  This could be President Duterte’s best legacy.  Just like the tagline of a famous watch, “You don’t own a Patek-Philppe [Phiippines], you take care of it for the next generation.”

FEEDBACK: joseabetozaide@gmail.com

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