Government plans to start relocating informal settlers on the shores of Manila Bay as early as Phase 1 of the project to rehabilitate the polluted bay.
According to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, the plan aims to significantly curb pollution in Manila Bay as soon as possible and open up the opportunity for the estimated 220,000 informal settler-families there to lead better lives elsewhere.
“We’re determined to relocate them even during Phase 1 if everything is prepared already and don’t have to wait a year to do so,” Cimatu said on the sidelines of a Quezon City press conference on Manila Bay’s rehabilitation.
Cimatu said Phase 1 will begin on Jan. 27 and will include preparations for the relocation of the informal settlers in addition to the cleanup of ‘esteros’ (estuaries and creeks) and the coast of Manila Bay.
“Phase 1 includes preparations for the informal settlers’ relocation aside from the cleanup of ‘esteros’ and the coast of Manila Bay.”
The environment chief noted that relocating informal settlers is just one component of Manila Bay’s rehabilitation.
Aside from generally being located in danger areas like banks of waterways, authorities said informal settlements lack facilities like sewerage systems so people there dispose of feces and other trash directly into the environment.
Human and animal feces in addition to untreated sewage disposed directly into Manila Bay have contributed to its degradation, experts said.
Experts say coliform bacteria which is found in human and animal feces has the potential to cause diseases.
The DENR said the long-term disposal of both solid waste and untreated discharges into Manila Bay has raised the level of coliform bacteria there to over 330 million most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters.
“The safe coliform level is 100 MPN per 100 milliliters only. We’ll try to bring down the coliform level in Manila Bay to that level.”
According to the DENR, the safe coliform level is pegged at 100 MPN per 100 milliliters only.
“We’ll try to bring down (the) coliform level in Manila Bay to that level,” said the environment head.
Cimatu said the DENR intends to make Manila Bay clean enough for use in swimming and other contact forms of recreation.
The target is aligned with Supreme Court’s 2008 decision ordering 13 agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay so it will be healthy for contact recreation, the DENR added.
Covered by the High Court’s order aside from the DENR are the departments of agriculture, public works, interior, education, health and budget; the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Local Water Utilities Administration, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group and the Philippine Ports Authority.
According to Cimatu, government earlier estimated that the clean-up and rehabilitation of Manila Bay which will be done in three phases over a period of about seven years.
“The bulk of that funding will be for relocating informal settlers there,” Cimatu said.
Planning for their relocation is in progress, he added.
Cimatu said the National Housing Authority will help find relocation sites for them.
“The government can’t relocate all Manila Bay informal settlers at the same time, however,” Cimatu clarified.
“We must see who among them will be the first to be relocated,” he said.
Road users’ tax and borrowings are among funding sources the government is considering to tap for the rehabilitation, according to the DENR.
Cimatu added that the DENR will also look into the possible use of its funds to help jumpstart the cleanup of Manila Bay.
Meanwhile Cimatu reiterated his call for local government units (LGUs) nationwide to implement solid waste management (SWM).
RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) requires LGUs to implement SWM in their respective areas, he said. SWM “shall refer to the discipline associated with the control of generation, storage, collection, transfer and transport, processing, and disposal of solid wastes in a manner that is in accord with the best principles of public health, economics, engineering, conservation, aesthetics, and other environmental considerations, and that is also responsive to public attitudes,” RA 9003 reads.
“Solid waste shall refer to all discarded household, commercial waste, non-hazardous institutional and industrial waste, street sweepings, construction debris, agricultural waste, and other non-hazardous/non-toxic solid waste,” RA 9003 further reads.