Photo: Business Standard

The country’s capital for economic activity from shipping, industrial, commercial, aquaculture and tourism activities – the Manila Bay – had been in hotspot since the government’s white sand project at the bay.

The Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines, in collaboration with Geological Society of the Philippines (GSP) and University of the Philippines Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM), shed light on the issue of Manila Bay, not only on its beach enrichment, but also in the context of its environmental management through a whole of system approach last September 18, 2020 via a webinar.

Government Manila Bay Rehabilitation efforts

The webinar served its purpose of focusing not only on the beach enrichment aspect but also informed the public on the well-planned environmental management of the Manila Bay through its Rehabilitation Program.

This was supported by Atty. Jonas R. Leones, Undersecretary for Priority Programs, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as he said that the white sand project in some parts of the Manila Bay shoreline is a beach nourishment initiative.

“This is to fast track our compliance to the Supreme Court Mandamus dated December 18, 2008, which directs 13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its water to SB level”, said Undersecretary Leones.

To ease the public’s concern and make them well informed on this government initiatives, Atty. Leones showed the designed geo-engineering interventions to make sure that the white sand will not be easily washed out, contrary to public’s sentiments. To make it more valid, Usec. Leones shared that one resort in the Philippines which used dolomite, the Shangri-La beach front in Cebu, served as a model for the Manila Bay beach nourishment. He added that this aesthetic initiative does not require environment impact studies.

The Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program include clean-up/water quality improvement (phase 1); full rehabilitation and resettlement (phase 2); and protection and sustainment (phase 3). USec Leones also mentioned that the solar-powered Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) which was unveiled last July 30, 2020 along Roxas Boulevard is now operational. The STP is capable of treating 500,000 liters of wastewater per day.

Development of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master plan

For big projects as the Manila Bay, experts convened and gathered numerous times to detail and develop the masterplan for the success and sustainability of the project.

 Dr. Rex Victor O. Cruz, former UPLB Chancellor shows the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan.

Dr. Rex Victor O. Cruz, former UPLB Chancellor, walked through the participants to the framework for the development of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan. He mentioned the importance of institutional set-up options and detailed these options such as strengthening the existing Manila Bay structures, expanding Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) coverage and empowering its Manila Bay Task Force, and creating a new agency or authority similar to the LLDA.

‘Dolomite’ communication fiasco

Lack of transparency, according to Dr. Ma. Stella C. Tirol, Dean, UPLB College of Development Communication, is one of the fiascos that fueled the doubts among the public.

Dr. Tirol detailed how the public is so deranged about the Manila Bay white sand project, which according to her, all started with the communication issues.

These communication issues include inappropriate timing of the project at the height of the pandemic, missing the big picture which created information gaps, thus making more people to speculate.

Also, the unharmonized mouthpieces– the DENR and the Department of Health (DOH) -when they first contradicted each other about the safety of dolomites also added to the issues particularly on the communication issue on the credibility reversal due to the retracted statement of DOH.

In light of these issues, Dean Tirol shared some good communication practices, such as preparing a communication plan, building good relationship with media, reporting positive results/stories/ build champions as advocates, social media training or communication capacity building, and listening to public opinions and complaints.

Geological considerations in Manila Bay coastal management, soil liquefaction

The experts did not set aside the geological considerations for the coastal management of the bay. Dr. Karlo Queaño, Professor at Ateneo de Manila University, stressed that the adaptation and mitigation strategies will need to be reviewed carefully to strengthen flood resilience.

Dr. Karlo Queaño, Professor, Ateneo de Manila University, presents the geological considerations for Manila Bay.

He also added the need for adaptation strategies to protect or enhance the ecosystem and improve future development planning to deter large community displacement and damage to infrastructures.

On the other hand, Dr. Jonathan R. Dungca, Professor, De La Salle University, presented several studies and previous incidences of earthquake-induced soil liquefactions in other countries such as in Japan.

Soil liquefaction, also called earthquake liquefaction, is the ground failure or loss of strength that causes otherwise solid soil to behave temporarily as a viscous liquid. (Britannica)

“A magnitude 5 earthquake can already cause a liquefaction in Manila Bay, since saturated sand deposits are loose,” said Dr. Dungca.

DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña also briefly joined the forum to thank the organizers for coming up with such a timely open discussion of the much-talked about Manila Bay rehabilitation.

On the other hand, Dr. Gregorio E.H. del Pilar, NRCP President said that many aspects of the project can be considered, as he posed the question about the maintenance and engineering sustainability in justifying the cost.

USec. Leones said that putting of white sand in some parts of Manila Bay will also address behavioral attitude that will help in cleaning and rehabilitating the bay.

Lastly, Dr. Graciano P. Yumul, former DOST Undersecretary, also stressed that supporting and trusting the government efforts and initiatives are the best we could do as a citizen.

This forum was led by Dr. Carla Dimalanta, President, GSP, Dr. Yumul, Dr. Marieta Banez Sumagaysay, Executive Director, DOST-NRCP, Dr. Edanjarlo Marquez, Chair, NRCP Division of Earth and Space Sciences, and Dr. Decibel F. Eslava, Dean, SESAM, and was attended by more than 1000 participants from different sectors.

The organizers are still open for another discussion to further clarify the environmental issues of the Manila Bay.