Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has pledged stricter law enforcement to punish those who pollute the Manila Bay even as he called for a concerted effort among all sectors to clean up one of the country’s most polluted water bodies.
Cimatu said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will be more stringent in enforcing laws on solid waste and wastewater, which is a key part of addressing the worsening pollution problem in the historic bay.
“The DENR is changing its paradigm of enforcement, prioritizing and doing a clean sweep of all dischargers of volume and toxic wastewater, randomizing inspections, imposing holidays on those who have not secured wastewater discharge permits, and raising penalties and surcharges for those who still do not have them after the prescribed amnesty period,” the environment chief said.
Cimatu unveiled the plans of his department during the first consultation meeting with Manila Bay stakeholders held recently at the DENR central office in Quezon City.
These plans, he said, would help the DENR comply more effectively with the writ of continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court in 2008, directing the department and 13 other government agencies to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay.
Cimatu said the operational plan for Manila Bay will again make a gargantuan effort to remove illegal structures along the bay and its tributaries, and relocate people who live in areas where they are in danger and which should not be places of human habitation.
“These people are discharging directly into our waterways so it is no surprise that fecal coliform is very high in our urban water bodies,” he pointed out.
With about 30 percent of the country’s population living within the Manila Bay basin and 17 river systems draining into it, Cimatu said it was not surprising the world-famous sunset destination is the country’s “most polluted body of water, and an urgent rehabilitation project” is therefore needed.
Citing a 2008 World Bank report, the DENR chief said the country’s economic losses from neglecting sewage can reach up to P78-billion a year, which is on top of the losses in ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Aside from this, he said water-borne diseases were killing up to 55 Filipinos a day.
“As we embrace modernity and cultivate a cosmopolitan city, with gleaming shopping malls and hotels, we can still only claim to having sewage treatment for 15 percent of Metro Manila. This is an even lower percentage than Dhaka, Bangladesh or Phnom Penh, Cambodia,” Cimatu lamented.
Caring for the environment is like brushing your teeth, you have to do it every day.
The rehabilitation of Manila Bay requires a multisectoral approach and cultural change in the way people regard the bay, the DENR secretary said, emphasizing that “caring for the environment is like brushing your teeth, you have to do it every day.”
The waters of Manila Bay contain domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, leachate from garbage dumps, and runoff from chemical agriculture.