By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent

The rehabilitation of badly polluted Manila Bay ordered by President Duterte gets underway with closure orders issued on the iconic Manila Zoo and Aristocrat Restaurant, Gloria Maris Shark’s Fin restaurant and The Esplanade all located along Roxas Boulevard for supposedly dumping their waste into the bay.

Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu, designated chief implementor of the project, said the Manila Bay rehab will involve clean-up and water quality improvement, rehabilitation and resettlement, and education and sustainment.

Cimatu referred to the rehab as today’s “Battle for Manila Bay” where different government agencies were tasked to immediately oversee the rehabilitation as stated in a Supreme Court order written as far as 2008.

The multiple agencies involved in the rehab, which was taken up after the successful clean-up of the “cesspool” that was Boracay once, are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the departments of Education, Health, Agriculture, Public Works and Highways and Budget and Management.

Photo: Manila Bay before rehabilitation. (By carawah/ Flickr)

Others are the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, the Philippine Ports Authority and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Cimatu said the next obstacle that the project needs to hurdle is the over 233,000 informal settler (squatter) families residing along the waterways of Manila Bay, directly discharging their wastes into the water.

According to the DENR chief, the rehabilitation of Manila Bay would be carried out in three phases in the next seven years, which means this will go beyond the term of Duterte who vowed to make the bay as clean as the world-famous Boracay island resort.

Under Phase 1, the concerned agencies will clean up designated waterways (esteros), reduce fecal coliform level and toxic charges from houses and establishments, and require sewage treatment plants for government, commercial, industrial, and educational establishments; inspect and repair leaks in old sewer lines; provide temporary sanitation facilities to informal settlers residing along esteros and shorelines pending relocation; implement solid waste management; and plan the relocation of informal settlers.

Phase 2 of the program will involve the rehabilitation of old sewer lines in the National Capital Region, continuing relocation of informal settlers, and ensuring completion of 340 million liters per day (MLD) of Maynilad and Manila Water by 2022.

Cimatu said the final phase will be the continuing education and information campaign, sustained law enforcement and monitoring, and fast tracking or earlier completion of the sewerage system in Metro Manila from 2026 to 2037.

DENR said only 15 percent or 2.4 million out of 16.3 million of the water-served population in Metro Manila are connected to a sewerage system and about 3.84 percent or 187,000 out of 4,863,938 of water-served population outside Metro Manila are provided with sanitation services.

“The Battle for Manila Bay is one battle that will be won not with force or arms but with the firm resolve to bring Manila Bay back to life,” Cimatu said.

“With the commitment and determination of every Filipino to do his share in this rehabilitation effort, we have already won the Battle for Manila Bay,” he added.

The DENR along with Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) issued the closure orders on erring establishments as the agencies officially began the “Battle for Manila Bay” to cleanse what environmentalist like to call Metro Manila’s “toilet bowl.”

Six other establishments in Pasay were issued notices of violation by the LLDA for water pollution.

In Bulacan, where seaside towns also face Manila Bay, LLDA said it closed 41 smelting firms, tanneries, packaging plants and fishponds in the province as part of the clean-up campaign.