By JOSE ANTONIO A. MONTALBAN
After two years, the Manila Dolomite Beach was reopened on Independence Day, being a highlight of the Duterte administration and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on its supposed accomplishment on the rehabilitation of Manila Bay under the “Battle for Manila Bay” slogan.
One key feature of the dolomite beach is the project marker placed on a dolomite boulder, signifying the legacy of the agency’s supposed accomplishment in rehabilitating Manila Bay.
Several organizations, individuals and communities, however, do not see this project as an accomplishment, instead criticizing the Duterte administration and the environmental agency for its pretentious and false notion of environmental rehabilitation in Manila Bay and in other thriving ecosystems in the country.
Under the Duterte administration, the DENR was tasked to lead the country’s initiatives in achieving its objective towards genuine environmental protection. One key component of this initiative is the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project as per Administrative Order No. 2019 – 016, fulfilling the Writ of Continuing Mandamus resolved by the Supreme Court back in 2008 along with its full resolution in 2011, requiring government agencies and private entities to rehabilitate Manila Bay back to its condition applicable for recreational activities, such as swimming.
This became the basis for DENR to pursue the Manila Dolomite Beach as part of a beach nourishment and coastal defense project for Manila Bay. Ironically, DENR failed on its supposed promise of genuine rehabilitation and protection of Manila Bay that should also benefit the surrounding dependent communities, along with the concern of viewing Manila Bay as a dispensable experiment for its programs and initiatives that are not true to conservation initiatives and much worse, are not in line with science-based applications, resulting in disappointments for various scientific and environmental organizations, communal collectives and other institutions relative to the concern.
Some of the pseudoscientific attempts to justify the supposed relevance of the dolomite beach for marine rehabilitation include an instance when Undersecretary Benny Antiporda performed an experiment using live fish placed in an aquarium filled with dolomite sand samples from the construction site of Manila Dolomite Beach in order to justify that the dolomite beach had nothing to do with the fish kill that happened in Baseco beach back in 2020 . This resulted in a deluge of criticisms from the general public primarily because of the lack of scientific basis on the parameters used for the experiment.
Another instance is the throwing of “bokashi balls” in the dolomite beach in order to improve water quality. This was done despite the absence of a proper scientific analysis that should have been performed prior to its application. Bokashi balls are prepared using mudballs filled with various organic materials and a specified microbial culture technology known as Effective Microorganisms, which are typically used for soil amendment to improve crop production while reducing consolidated organic waste. Bokashi balls, as bioaugmentation devices for water quality, proved to be effective on river/creek rehabilitation activities especially when there is proper flow control on the water body along with the determined pollutant concentration and composition. But bioaugmentation applications on coastline rehabilitation require proper considerations on ocean circulation and its coverage area, along with the complex physico-chemical characteristics of marine ecosystems.
Adding to the tainted vision of environmental protection is DENR’s support for proponents with environmentally-destructive projects in Manila Bay — from seabed quarrying to land reclamation projects.
One of the prominent infrastructure projects in Manila Bay is the proposed Bulacan Aerotropolis owned by San Miguel Corporation. It is to be constructed in a 2,500-hectare coastal ecosystem that was initially designed to have environmentally-sustainable provisions such as green building applications, but with its dreadful history of community displacement in Taliptip and its nearby communities, environmental degradation, intimidation and threat from state forces, the project itself became a central source of ridicule and criticism from various organizations, individuals and coastal communities of Bulacan, against DENR for being an agent for private conglomerates to exploit our natural resources through its infrastructure projects, displacing communities and degrading ecosystems.
As a reflection, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (2022) presented its latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for the year 2022. The EPI serves as an important and credible reference in assessing the performance of countries under the context of their respective environmental protection, conservation and governance initiatives.
In the report, the Philippines was ranked 158 out of 180 for the year’s EPI, a significant drop from its previous ranking of 111 back in 2020. This indicates that our country continues to fall behind in sustaining our environmental governance initiatives. Back in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration initially promised a strong sense of environmental governance and sustainability in our country, yet the sheer failure of this administration, along with its environmental agency, has caused an irreparable outcome that impedes the sustenance of genuine development for the environment and its dependent communities, and a shameful legacy that our society will have to endure.
We reiterate the demand of holding the Duterte administration, the DENR, and its private conglomerates, to be accountable for exploiting our natural resources and displacing marginalized communities for their own benefit.
We also demand for clear programs and genuine intentions for the protection of our natural resources and for uplifting the lives of marginalized communities as we face the Marcos-Duterte administration.
Manila Bay is an important ecosystem not only within the Metro Manila landscape, but also for its nearby provinces. Degrading the whole Bay will set catastrophic consequences in our communities. We simply re-echo the call: SAVE MANILA BAY.
About the author
Jose Antonio A. Montalban is a licensed sanitary engineer and a technical volunteer for Engineers Without Borders – Philippines (EWB-PH) and Pro People Engineers and Leaders (PROPEL). He is involved in various engineering consultancy and design work for public health and sanitation systems, pollution abatement and environmental management. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Sanitary Engineering and is currently finishing his graduate studies on Environment and Natural Resources Management with its focus on Upland Resources.