OFFICIALS have explained the P397.9-million Manila Bay “restoration” project rather tangentially that it’s almost like the contention is played merely on the public relations front. A crucial handling is most needed amidst looming public discontent during the pandemic.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said it is a “beach nourishment project,” supposedly to “give a spark of hope” amidst the pandemic. It’s for “mental health,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. was quick to add. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the project is only part of a large-scale, integrated cleanup of all water bodies.
At some point, the arguments were cornered into the issue of the dolomite dump—permits, environmental cost and health hazard.
Easy to miss, however, is the fact that the whole stretch of the bay had been earmarked for large-scale reclamation projects, around six of which in Manila have already been approved since early last year by the Philippine Reclamation Authority.
It is, therefore, nothing but horseplay to tell us that the dolomite dump down Roxas Blvd. makes our quarantine-traumatized mental state bearable in the presence of artificial sand.
The cosmetic nourishment of that part of the world merely sets the ground as crowd-drawer for the other projects coming that way.
Early last year, there were already 19 Manila Bay projects that were in different stages of development. A February 2019 report said six were already in the detailed engineering stage and were inches away from completion of required documents.
Government defends itself amid allegations of insensitivity for pushing the dolomite dump by also saying that the project had been approved since last year yet. It might have been unlawful to shut the project altogether, it said.
But this is precisely one of the reasons the Bayanihan law was created in the first place, to give the President the power to stop projects to give government the opportunity to divert funds—“whether released or unreleased”—under the 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act to address the health crisis.
On whether the Manila Bay project’s long-term economic benefits can match that of what the consequences of a quicker resolution to the more urgent health crisis would be remains to be seen.
There is also the political cost if the project eventually turns out to be a major letdown. Like all cosmetic solutions, they are transitory, never sustainable.