By Kaye Estoista-Koo
A woman in her 50s remembers the time their pilot-father would take the family out for a drive along Roxas Boulevard, roll down the windows, and tell them, “breath in your vitamins, breathe in the air.” They would stay for a couple of hours on the shores of Manila Bay, letting the sun provide some vitamin D.
Another longtime Manileño reminisces the time he would go out fishing with his father on the far side of the breakwater of Manila Bay.
Still, another recalls when families would take their children into the water to swim.
It is perhaps with these fond memories that many regular citizens joined the 5,000-plus strong contingent last Jan. 27 to officially launch Save Manila Bay, a seven-year rehabilitation plan led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sec. Roy Cimatu.
Save Manila Bay started as a germ of an idea by Commodore Bobby Lim Joseph of the Manila Yacht Club (MYC). As soon as he started his two-year term last November, he started telling all his friends, especially in media, about his ideas for Save Manila Bay. He imagined a six-month timeline doing this before seeing anything concrete happen.
But thanks to newspaper articles that kept talking about Save Manila Bay, the campaign was brought to Sec. Cimatu’s attention, who promptly went to MYC to meet with Joseph.
As a quick backgrounder, the Save Manila Bay plan is backed up by a legal case, one that environmental lawyer Tony Oposa filed in 1999 and won 10 years ago in the Supreme Court–the Concerned Residents of Manila vs. the Philippine Government for the cleaning of Manila Bay.
In 2008, 13 government agencies were ordered to clean up Manila Bay, reporting their progress every three months until the waters are fit for swimming.
But it is only this 2019 that we see something happening on this scale, with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte coming in a month after he learned of Cimatu’s initial meeting with Joseph.
“General Cimatu is my answered prayer. Instead of six months, things happened in less than a month. He is honest and charming, very goal-oriented. This is his biggest challenge, and I know he will make it,” enthuses Joseph.
His first meeting between Sec. Cimatu sparked the organizational wheels that ended up involving several government departments including DILG, DPWH, DND, PNP, and MMDA, aside from the DENR—enough to launch an inter-agency battle cry on the last Sunday in January this year.
The commodore says that more than the launching on Jan. 27, the key to understanding Save Manila Bay starts with prevention. “We are not looking at the cleanup first, we are looking at the prevention. It is where the different hotels, restaurants, and barangays should have their own Sewage Treatment Plants or STPs.”
With Sec. Cimatu’s hands-on and aggressive approach to Save Manila Bay, all outflows and tributaries are monitored by the DENR, with samples taken regularly to determine water safety and quality levels.
“Once the outflow is not good, DENR checks the property and, if above standard, okay, no problem. But if the STP is very small compared to the water that comes out, they would have to change the STP. Those in violation will be given a couple of months to rectify,” remarks Joseph.
STPs, as reported earlier in January by Environment Usec. Sherwin Rigor, is an important compliance requirement for all hotels and industries along Manila Bay, an area covering Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, and Zambales. The standard and safe water quality level (swimming pool quality) is 1,000 most probable number (MPN)/100 ml while the fecal coliform in the bay stands at 330 million MPN/100 ml, or 329,999 percent above standard!
The DENR, as Joseph reveals plans with Cimatu, will build more STPs, diverting the water so that treated water gets double-treated in an effort to ensure water safety.
The second step is for Maynilad and Manila Water to speed up the setting up of more STPs, intended to remove harmful substances from the waste water generated by the consumers, something that Joseph says can’t wait till 2032. In news reported before the launch of Save Manila Bay, Maynilad is set to invest R26.4-B for new STPs in the next five years, with new sewer lines in Caloocan, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, and Kawit, Cavite.
This is because even if you live in Caloocan or Zambales, your water or solid waste finds its way back into the bay eventually.
The third step in ensuring the success of Save Manila Bay involves the proper education of all barangays in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces that are part of Manila Bay. “Some areas will have to be cordoned off so that they don’t just throw water, teaching them to separate waste, and putting up toilets, because a lot don’t even have this.”
The segregation of just waste and plastics alone will make a huge difference. “The wet and the hard, the dry, we take that out,” he adds. “We will reduce the problem by more than 60 percent. If you give the dry to the basureros, they can have that recycled and it does not go into the water. With the wet we can learn to make our own compost. If everyone does this, we solve 40 to 60 percent of the problem nationwide, if only we have the discipline both in our homes and offices.”
Likewise, the manner by which human waste is being dumped is where barangay and local governments come in to strictly enforce the law.
Another aspect of SaveManila Bay is that it does not just involve the bay area on Roxas Boulevard. “We will be desilting Pasig River, like all the other waterways and canals. We have about 10,000 people to do that,” he says.
The end goal for 2019, for example, is to have a specific area that will meet the standard and safe water quality level, an area to be assessed by DENR.
DILG has already started visiting big communities of dwellers in waterways to teach them procedures they have to follow in relocation.
The MMDA, likewise, has started dredging and pumping out dirt and garbage at the hole by MYC, which goes out into the bay, where the worst of the waste has passed through for the past decades.
The MYC will have its own movable STP as well, something that Joseph says has gained more support.
The approach to all this, at the start and in the end, is Bayanihan. “Bayan for the community,” he says. “And all of us are heroes. It is the Filipino who will win. This is bigger than EDSA, this is a turning point. The NCR has 20 million people and with each one having human waste every day.”
Imagine the change if all the 20 million did something good for the environment every day, consistently and with passion.