THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is preparing to rehabilitate the Manila Bay — one of the best news we must all pay attention to.
This project is long overdue, for 10 years as a matter of fact, because it was on Dec. 18, 2008 that the Supreme Court issued a mandamus ordering 13 government agencies to clean up and protect Manila Bay. With the support and confidence he gained during Boracay’s clean-up, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is determined to rehabilitate Manila Bay by all means necessary.
Considered as one of the best natural harbors in the world, Manila Bay has been our country’s premier gateway to the West and to neighboring countries in Asia. It holds much significance in our history, and it has played a vital role in shaping our nation and our identity as it has witnessed countless momentous events dating as far back as 9th century A.D. such as the commencement of trade with China, the arrival of the Spaniards, the Galleon Trade, and the Battle of Manila, among others.
In 1975, my colleagues and I from the Planning and Project Development Office of the Department of Public Works, Transportation, and Communication published the Manila Bay Metropolitan Region (MBMR) Strategic Plan. We emphasized the importance of not only focusing on the metropolitan area but targeting the provinces and cities beyond. This is why the MBMR comprises Manila and the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales. The coastline from Cavite to Bataan is 190 kilometers, the surface water is 180,000 hectares, and the land area of the watershed catchment area is 1,700,000 hectares — equivalent to 24 Singapores and 1,700 Boracays. As early as 1975, we identified how economic development and social uplift must transpire simultaneously with environmental protection and cultural advancement. Until today, Manila Bay holds a primary role in our economic growth as the area, including NCR and Regions 3 and 4, contributes approximately 55 percent of our GDP. Despite its economic and cultural endowment, Manila Bay’s environment has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. It is severely polluted with marine, domestic, industrial, and commercial waste — threatening marine life and the livelihoods primarily dependent on the bay’s resources. According to the most recent water samples and laboratory tests conducted by the DENR, Manila Bay’s coliform level is 330 million MPN — exceptionally way beyond the acceptable level of less than 100 MPN! Last January 15, I was invited to attend the stakeholders’ meeting that took place at the DENR office in Quezon City. An endeavor of this magnitude would take at least five years, and the government agencies and LGUs tasked with rehabilitating Manila Bay would need all the help they can get from the private and social sectors.
As an urban planner, I strongly support the revitalization and conservation of Manila Bay. I believe this wide-scale project presents numerous opportunities for waterfront development from which we can all reap long-term benefits. During a recent TV interview, I shared several ideas on how to clean up Manila Bay. First of all, the formulation of a comprehensive master plan (CMP) is immensely crucial. Rehabilitation plans must be cohesive in an integrated overall framework. Focusing on the metropolitan region alone would be disadvantageous because this would not address the root causes of environmental degradation in adjacent areas. To expound on this a little further, stricter environmental regulations must also be implemented on the Pasig River, Laguna Lake, San Juan River, Marikina River, and Pampanga River because a great number of violators can be found there, and waste disposed on these bodies of water flow into Manila Bay.
Because the waterfront is a major community resource, I highly recommend designing urban waterfront developments that can enhance people’s quality of life in all aspects. Esplanades, promenades and linear parks are great waterfront public spaces that have an invigorating effect on a city’s image and sense of place. These should be designed to be walkable, bikable, and well-lit with minimal environmental impact, ultimately enhancing community health and development while interconnecting our fragmented metropolis. Remarkable public spaces are what make cities great. Famous illustrations are the Central Park in New York, Eiffel Tower in Paris, Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and Trafalgar Square in London. Among the world’s best waterfronts are Amsterdam’s and Denmark’s picturesque waterways, Venice’s famous canals, Sydney Harbor, the Bay of Naples, Dubai’s waterfront developments, and the French Riviera’s famous beachfronts. We should follow best practices abroad where waterfronts, including inland waterways, are treated as prime locations and can be enjoyed by all — not as places for waste disposal.
Based on the principle of triple bottom line — people first, planet Earth, and then the economy — informal settlers near the waterfront of Manila Bay and other waterways should be relocated and provided with decent housing. Once the waterfront is cleared, standard easements should be strictly applied: 50 meters for the coastline of Manila Bay, 10 meters for all rivers, and 3.5 meters for esteros or estuaries. Sewage treatment plants and sewer interceptors can lower the coliform level, and establishments must be connected to sewer pipelines that will collect sewage before reaching the waterways. In terms of connectivity, the Manila Bay Metropolitan Region has high development potential. Establishing a more efficient water transportation system can improve accessibility and linkage between regions. Pasig River and Pampanga River can be re-dredged, so they can be made more navigable. Well-known major waterways that were dredged to improve navigation of commercial shipping are the Thames River, Dubai Creek, and Suez Canal. The aforementioned recommendations that we at Palafox have put forward, among others, can help Manila Bay’s rehabilitation to become more sustainable well into the future for the present and coming generations to enjoy.
As custodians of Manila Bay and its immense resources, we are at a crucial point wherein we must renew and act upon our ecological concern for it. Aligned with our President’s strong political will and DENR’s determination, let us all help in restoring Manila Bay to its former glory.