The COVID-19 pandemic has not dampened government efforts to clean up Manila Bay as shown by the sizable gains achieved this year by the inter-agency task force led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“Our work continues despite the limitations in mobilizing people, especially for our clean-up, monitoring and enforcement activities,” said DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who chairs the Manila Bay Task Force in charge of restoring the historic water body.

Cimatu said the solar-powered sewage treatment plant (STP) inaugurated by the task force in July was among its significant accomplishments for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

The STP is capable of treating 500,000 liters of wastewater per day from three drainage outfalls—Padre Faura, Remedios and Estero de San Antonio Abad.

Cimatu said that among the priority areas for rehabilitation, a significant decrease in fecal coliform was recorded in three sites, namely, the Baywalk area, Estero de San Antonio Abad and Baseco Beach.

In the Baywalk, fecal coliform is now down to 2,211,833 most probable number per 100 milliliters (MPN/100ml), compared to 5,666,213 MPN/100ml in 2019.

The coliform level in Estero de San Antonio Abad also went down from 43,881,048 MPN/100ml to 19,066,767 MPN/100ml, and Baseco Beach from 1,700,000 MPN/100ml in 2019 to 341,225 MPN/100ml.

Aside from these priority areas, cleanup activities were also regularly conducted in creeks, esteros and river systems. An average 60 metric tons of garbage were collected daily for a total of 24,471.30 metric tons from 2019.

In partnership with the Department of Public Works and Highways, dredging and desilting operations were also conducted. In the Baywalk area, a total of 210,549 cubic meters (m3) of silts and submerged garbage were dredged.

Meanwhile, a total of 551,768.72 m3 of dredged materials were collected from the esteros, creeks and rivers. These include esteros in eight priority river systems: San Juan River, Pasig River, Tullahan-Tinajeros River, Navotas-Malabon River, Parañaque River, Las Piñas-Zapote River, Taguig-Pateros River, and Marikina River.

Cimatu said the task force also introduced geo-engineering interventions in the bay, such as the installation of trash booms and silt curtains.

“We are optimistic that these measures will really help clean the waters of Manila Bay,” Cimatu said.

He added: “However, as I repeatedly stressed, this is an effort not only of the government but of every Filipino. We must work hand in hand.”

In Baseco, a circumferential sewerage interceptor was constructed and communal septic tanks were installed to minimize the direct discharge of untreated wastewater to the bay.

Just recently, Project Kubeta Ko was launched at Parola Compound in Tondo, Manila by the city government of Manila, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Maynilad Water Services, Inc., Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and the DENR.

The project aims to minimize open defecation in Manila Bay by informal settler families (ISFs) in Manila. It adopted a portable, container-based toilet solution to provide dignified temporary sanitation facilities for ISFs prior to relocation.

The cleanup and rehabilitation of Manila Bay is guided by the Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy which covers the period 2017-2022, and by Administrative Order No. 16 issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2019.

Both outline the specific actions, programs and projects to comply with the continuing mandamus of the Supreme Court to restore Manila Bay waters to Class SB, or intended for recreational activities like swimming and bathing.

The implementation of the plan and the President’s directive include the monitoring of establishments for pollution and compliance to effluent standards, and the monitoring of water quality in key river mouths, outfalls, and bathing beaches in the Manila Bay region.

In September, the DENR also embarked on the beach nourishment project with the use of dolomite to rehabilitate and protect the coastal resources in the area, as well as to prevent coastal flooding, erosion, and pollution. The estimated cost of the entire project is P389 million, around P28 million of which is allotted for the dolomite overlay. ###