By Daniel Llanto

Malacañang on September 7 defended the government project to cover the shores of the Manila Bay with Boracay-like white powdery sand, which came under widespread criticism from lawmakers, environmentalists, health advocates and economists.

“Itong ginawa po nila, ito po ay tinatawag na beach enhancement so, hindi lang po ito pagpapaganda. Itongbeach enhancement pong ito ay para po maiwasan ang soil erosion at para makatulong din po sa flood control,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a televised briefing.

But Vice-president Leni Robredo said the funds used for the project, which was a hefty PHP349 million could have been better allocated for the national government’s response to the worsening health crisis.

The Department of Health also said crushed dolomite rocks — which are being used to cover a stretch of Manila Bay’s shoreline — could lead to eye irritation and respiratory problems. Citing studies, Health Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said crushed dolomite rocks may lead to “adverse” effects, mainly on the respiratory system, once inhaled.

“Once dolomite becomes dust or it aerosolizes, it can cause respiratory issues,” Vergeire said in a media briefing.

In a forum, ocean conservation organization Oceana Philippines Vice-president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said they are discussing filing a writ of kalikasan with the Supreme Court to stop the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from covering a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay’s rocky shore with white sand.

“It’s always an option under the rules of procedure for environmental cases, even a threat to destruction.  Ito nga may destruction na eh. It is ground for applying a writ of kalikasan,” Ramos said.

Fisherfolk groups alliance Pamalakaya President Fernando Hicap said, “Talagang seryoso kami na ihinto. Hindi po ito ang solusyon. Nagsasayang tayo ng pera at hindi po rehabilitation ‘to. Hindi ‘to makatutulong para ma-rehabilitate ang Manila Bay,” Hicap said.

Lou Arsenio, program coordinator of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila Ministry of Ecology said, “Ang problema sa ganun mahabang proseso ‘yan e, ‘yung pag-file ng writ of kalisakasan. Ang dapat diyan sigurotemporary restraining order muna.”

Gagawin white sand itong, dito sa may bay walk area para makita ng tao na kapag puti ang kulay ng isang bagay, kailangan pangalagaan mo ito at ‘wag mo dumihan,” DENR Undersec. Benny Antiporda said.

Antiporda earlier clarified that it is not white sand that will be used to fill the stretch but crushed “dolomite boulders” from Cebu.

“Naglagay po sila ng mga tubo diyan na mayroong mga sand doon po sa perimeter para maiwasan nga po iyong matangay iyong mga sand diyan dahil primarily nga po, this is an anti-soil erosion project,” Antiporda added

Roque also said the project will give residents of Manila a source of enjoyment despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

“As a Manila resident, I’m happy na magkakaroon po tayo ng beautification of Manila Bay kasi kaming mga taga-Maynila ay kinakailangan naman magkaroon din ng access sa magandang beach sa mga panahon na hindi naman pupuwedeng lumabas ng Metro Manila,” he said.

Sen. Nancy Binay, Senate committee on Tourism chair, said, “Yung paglalagay ng dolomite as a substitute for white sand only means na hindi dumaan sa tamang proseso at pag-aaral ang plano sa Manila Bay rehabilitation. Walang public consultation, walang environmental clearance, hilaw ang Environmental Impact Assessment/Environmental Impact Statement, at malinaw na bara-bara at di comprehensive ang plano.”

Binay lamented that DENR should prioritize improving the water quality in Manila Bay instead of adorning it with white sand.

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