From misplaced priorities to lack of transparency, Manila Bay ‘white sand’ project raises more questions

September 7, 2020 - 2:46 PM
Filipino bikers along Manila Bay (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Vice President Leni Robredo questioned the funds used for the controversial Manila Bay “white sand” project after the Palace claimed that it could improve the Filipinos’ mental health.

Last week, the Department of Environment and National Resources started dumping pulverized dolomite rocks from Cebu to fill 500 meters stretch of the bay walk on Roxas Boulevard “white sand” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This initiative is part of its plan to revive the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program, which was launched in 2017.

However, several Filipinos raised concerns about the environment risks the artificial white sands would bring to the already-contaminated bay.

READ: DENR told to focus on pollution as it works to transform Manila Bay into a ‘white sand beach’

What Robredo said

On her radio program last Sunday, September 6, Robredo said that the funds used for the project, which was a hefty P349 million could have been better allocated to the national government’s response to the worsening health crisis instead.

“Halimbawa na lang, iyong mga mananahi namin, noong binisita namin, kaunti lang naman iyong kita nila per PPE na tinatahi nila, pero nagpapasalamat silang grabe kasi sabi nila ‘may pangkain na po kami, may pangbili na ng gamot’,” Robredo said.

“Iyong iba naman na binisita namin, ‘noong wala pa po itong PPE, umaasa lang kami sa tulong ng barangay’. Tapos makikita iyong ganito. Parang napaka-insensitive sa kahirapan ng tao,” she added.

She also reacted to the previous remark of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque where he defended the Manila Bay project as supposed healing for mental struggles.

“Iyong makatulong sa mental health ng tao, tapusin na ang pandemya. Gawin natin ‘yung lahat para bumalik na tayo sa normal,” she said.

What the Palace said

Last Saturday, September 5, Roque was asked about the same criticisms on the realignment or the reallocation of funds from the COVID-19 relief programs to the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

He responded that should the beautification become successful, walking along this tourist spot could boost the public’s mental health.

“I don’t buy that argument. Kasi alam mo sa gitna ng pandemya. Kelangan din alagaan yung mental health. I think yung pagpapasyal sa mga lugar tulad ng Manila Bay na may white beach, hindi mo maka-quantify ang epekto niyan pagdating po sa mental health,” Roque said.

How Filipinos reacted

Following his remarks, Roque over the weekend once again drew the ire of local Twitterverse as Filipinos viewed his idea that the white sand beach would resolve mental struggles “absurd” and even “funny.”

Some Filipinos expressed their frustration in the form of witty memes.

Actress Alessandra de Rossi also shared a satirical tweet in response to the controversial beautification project.

“Pakibilis-bilisan naman ang paglatag ng white sand sa Manila Bay para sa mental health ng lahat. Baka sakaling wala nang magutom dahil busog na sa view,” she said.

Human rights activist Bryan Gonzales, meanwhile, made a more straightforward suggestion.

“Gusto niyong makatulong sa mental health namin? Resign. All of you,” he said.

Another user echoed Robredo’s perception on misplaced priorities.

“‘Manila bay beach, why not?’ oh i dont know!!! Maybe because we’re in the middle of a national health crisis and there are far more important things to spend 300 million pesos on,” the user said.

What environmental groups are saying

In a televised interview on Monday, Rodne Galicha, head of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, explained thatthe DENR should be transparent to the public, saying that this controversial venture would be beneficial given the large budget.

“The burden of proof would be carried by the DENR and of course, by the Environment Management Bureau. The burden of proof should be, they would have to explain that to the constituents, the people, the organizations seek where is the study? Where is the feasibility study?” Galicha said.

“Transparency is the most important thing that they need to do,” he added.

While he appreciated the DENR’s intentions, Galicha argued that unless there’s scientific basis, this “white sand beach” initiative should not have been done in the first place.

“In fairness to the DENR, they’re doing their best, the thing is, you need to be transparent. Give us and show us through a presentation or Zoom, for example, public presentation that this is the plan and this is in accordance with the mandate given to us by Supreme Court and according to the plan by 2017 to 2022. Where is the risk assessment on climate change? Where is the cost-benefit analysis?” he said.

EcoWaste Coalition similarly asked the DENR and the Department of Public Works and Highways to disclose to the public the studies and proceedings they’ve conducted for this project.

“As the public have the right to know, we urge the DENR and the DPWH to post on their websites all pertinent documents that will provide environmental, health, legal and financial justification for pursuing this beautification project,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“We want to know if the implementing agencies have considered potential harm to the marine and coastal ecosystems and to human health, and how much of taxpayers’ money will be required for the continuing monitoring, maintenance and replenishment of the ‘white sand’ beach, which could be used for truly rehabilitating Manila Bay and for supporting the poor who depend on it for their livelihood,” she added.