Manila Bay is an opportunity
By MA. ISABEL ONGPIN, January 18, 2019
I AM very impressed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as well as the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Tourism joining hands to tackle the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. Right now, the beautiful bay, which is the foreground of our spectacular sunsets and the sea entrance to Manila, where galleons used to sail, people used to swim and fish, and where important historical events began, is an open sewer. Years of neglect, poor governance, ignorance and the vicissitudes of inequality have brought this about. Decades of the former have resulted in the shameful condition that Manila Bay is in today.
Not too long ago in a well-publicized decision, the Supreme Court mandated the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, a decision that was paid lip service to but nothing more. It seems political will is now present in the three departments cited above that orients them toward the target of cleaning up the bay so as to turn it into what a body of water should be — a clean, healthy, leisure water and commercial asset as well as a scenic feature of Manila.
But it will not be just a case of cleaning up per se but will involve the work of planning that must be carried out properly and humanely for it to be effective and permanent.
As everyone knows, private and commercial enterprises have been wantonly emptying untreated waste into the bay via the esteros and creeks that flow into it. This has to stop and it will if the three departments, working as one as they did in Boracay, start implementing the rules of sanitation and imposing the penalties on those who do not follow them.
But the crux of the problem will also lie in how to manage the informal settlers that are a major part of the pollution of Manila Bay. Squatting on public land, or required easements along creeks, rivers and esteros with substandard sanitation facilities, if any, is responsible for a large part of the pollution.
From public announcements, the departments have said something about “persuading” informal settlers to leave or be relocated. Easier said than done as it happens everywhere else in situations like that.
Here is where proper and humane planning will be needed to cut pollution. Social workers, local government officials and urban planners will be needed for expertise and an orderly master plan.
If possible, informal settlers should be relocated where they can find viable work and a viable way of life. Often, relocation sites are too desolate and too far to be acceptable. For those who are willing to be there, there should be adequate housing with the basic services available, from transport and communication to education and medical services and a feasible way to get to their jobs and back.
Another way is to relocate the informal settlers in the urban areas that they are already settled in but away from creeks and esteros and not in slum-like conditions. There needs to be a serious budget and planned effort for both out-of-city and in-city relocations.
One thing that seems not to have been done enough of is for the government to buy land or use public land (but not open spaces that are needed for urban living) for low-cost housing that would accommodate former informal settlers in viable and humane housing where the sanitary standards are applied and there is no cause for pollution.
I think this suggestion may be too out-of-the-box for some who think that informal settlers must be eradicated from their midst. This attitude sometimes pervades the government circles that have to deal with this problem. The idea of using government funds to buy land to accommodate informal settlers in urban areas is thought to be extravagant and indulgent. But be that as it may, if these obsolete ideas are superseded by the acceptance that low-income people can manage to live in the city well with government investment in housing, the result will be dignified homes that will be safeguarded by those who live in them. No one wants to live in a slum. Innovative thinking can find a way to take them out of the slums. If it costs money, it will be money well spent.
And there is money in this country to do so when one notes the waste of public funds that we see everyday — taxpayers’ money diverted from public infrastructure projects to private interests with no redeeming social value, wasteful spending of public funds in ill-thought projects, the unconscionable allowances for legislators or worse, the keeping of funds without spending them for public projects, a cause for temptation from those in the know to divert them to themselves through fake projects or corruption.
The thrust of changing things that are the status quo and which are unsatisfactory and unproductive should be more innovative. Doing things better even if it shakes the status quo ideas is visionary thinking. It brings on plans and methods that deal with social conditions as they are and which can be solved by new ways of looking at them for solutions. New ideas and finding the means to implement them, be it by raising funds and putting in the long and hard work, can be a boon to the whole of society. Indeed, it is a matter of political will.
It is time that we think in more encompassing and even radical ways to solve our present environmental problems and deficiencies in basic services. We can thus improve ourselves.