Baseco beach in Tondo, Manila, was filled with thousands of Manilans on Easter Sunday, out to enjoy even just a few minutes of wading in the cool waters of the bay on a specially hot summer day. They can no longer do this in the waters off Roxas Blvd. and Rizal Park, where wire fences keep the peope from getting to the water and signs tell them the water is not safe for swimming.
The water in that part of the bay, especially near Remedios St. in Malate was found at one time to have a coliform bacteria level of 35 million MPN (most probable number). It seems there is a sewer nearby spewing untreated human and animal wastes into the bay. After the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) closed down the Manila Zoo and other polluting places in Malate, coliform levels went down in the area.
From 35 million MPN near Remedios St., the level went down to 11 million last February 11-15. From 7.9 million MPN near Padre Faura, the level went down to 1.6 million. From 1.2 million MPN in the area behind the United States Embassy, the level went down to 1,700 MPN.
But the safe coliform level for swimming , the DENR said, is 100 MPN. This means the tested areas are still way above safe levels. Hence, the need for that wire fence along the entire length of Roxas Bolevard keeping people froms wading into the bay.
Out on Baseco at the mouth of the Pasig River, a V-shaped compound northwest of the North Harbor, the water is probably cleaner as it is far from the sewers of Malate, and so the people feel safer as they wade out into the waters of the bay. But the entire Manila Bay is said to be polluted, as a result of decades of untreated wastes flowing into it through countless rivers in Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila, and Cavite.
This is today the biggest challenge facing the DENR. It is a problem a hundred times bigger than Boracay. There is garbage of all kinds, including plastics that threaten sealife, but the principal concern is the pollution from millions of homes, farms, and factories, a problem which the Supreme Court ordered the government to solve as early as 2008
People around the bay have long enjoyed its waters in the heat of summer. They can no longer do so in the highly populated areas of Manila because of the wire fences and the signs warning them of the pollution. There are yet no such fences and signs on Baseco island, and we hope the pollution level has not reached danger levels in that part of the bay.
But the DENR should extend its tests to all areas around the bay to protect the people who are not yet fully aware of the danger in the bay’s waters. And it should carry on its cleanup and rehabilitation program without letup in the next five years which, by its own estimates, will be needed be needed to complete the task.