The “Dolomite Beach” in Manila Baywalk opened to the public on Sunday with individuals allowed a maximum of a five-minute stay in the regulated area.
Reports said that its opening was a surprise.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that Filipinos can visit the artificial white sand along Manila Bay until July 20, Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
They must strictly adhere to the minimum health protocols such as the wearing of face masks and face shields and observance of physical distancing.
Only up to 120 people can be accommodated every five minutes in the area, which is near the United States Embassy in Manila. This means visitors are only allowed to stay for five minutes.
Seniors and minors with adult companions can enter in the vicinity but pets are not allowed.
Eating, drinking, littering and picking up dolomite sand is prohibited.
Visitors are similarly not allowed to swim on the bay since its waters have not yet reached the standard acceptable levels of fecal coliform.
After the three-day opening, the DENR would conduct an assessment to see if they will open the artificial white beach area again.
The agency targets to finish the second phase of the project by October.
Last month, coconut palms were planted along the baywalk “as part of its “beautification and restoration.”
The overall initiative is part of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program which aims to clean, rehabilitate and preserve the historic bay.
Meanwhile, the five-minute duration given for Filipinos to enjoy the scenery of the artificial white sand prompted questions from some social media users who recalled the Palace’s remarks on the matter.
“Pero may effect nga ba?” a Twitter user said, pertaining to the “mental health” comments of President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson before.
“May sense ba talaga ‘to? Anong silbi ng paglalakad ng 5 minutes sa pekeng buhangin?” another online user wondered.
“Mamamasyal 5 minutes, mas mahal pa pinamasahe nila papunta diyan hahaha!” a different Filipino exclaimed.
“Is that dosage enough?” another Twitter user wrote in response to the five-minute duration.
The Palace last year defended the dolomite beach project by claiming that walking along the artificial white sands could benefit one’s mental health, especially amid a pandemic.
“Kasi alam mo, sa gitna ng pandemya, kinakailangan din na pangalagaan ang mental health,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque previously said to reporters.
“I think ‘yung pagpapasyal sa mga lugar gaya ng Manila Bay na may white beach, hindi mo maka-quantify ang epekto niyan pagdating po sa mental health ng ating mga kabababayan, ‘yung kapayapaan ng pag-iisip at ‘yung break from ‘yung dangers ng pandemic,” he added.
“Right now, Manila Bay is known for its sunset, probably the best sunset in the world. With the white beach there, it will be one of the most picturesque sceneries in the whole world,” Roque further claimed.
Indie musician Chall protested against the project by uploading a video of him on loop staring at a picture of the artificial white sands for his supposed mental health.
Responding to the criticisms, the DENR said that the rehabilitation project amid the COVID-19 pandemic “is not untimely.”
It said that it was approved by Congress under the 2019 General Appropriations Act and that it underwent competitive bidding under Republic Act 9184.
The agency added that the contract was awarded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and that “the government cannot simply stop a project when it is already under a contractual obligation to proceed.”
“Beach nourishment mainly aims to rehabilitate and protect the coastal resources in the area to prevent coastal flooding and erosion,” it further said.