Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said his agency will continue to seek the cooperation of other government agencies, particularly those covered by continuing mandamus by the Supreme Court, in an effort to reduce pollution in Manila Bay.
Paje likewise announced that the DENR, as chair of the Manila Bay Coordinating Council, has set to reduce by 50% the pollution load in Manila Bay by 2015.
“We will continue to work with other agencies to fast track the rehabilitation of Manila Bay by prioritizing our efforts on areas with high levels of coliform as well as level up the implementation of other interventions like waste segregation and collection and increasing the vegetative cover of watersheds surrounding the bay and coastal areas,” Paje said.
At the same time, Paje urged the public, particularly those living along river banks, to stop throwing their garbage into rivers as these not only pollute the rivers but also constrict waterways affecting the free flow of water, especially during heavy rains. “Tayo po ay muling nanawagan sa mga residente sa tabi ng ilog na huwag magtapon ng basura dahil hindi lamang ito nagpo-pollute ng ating katubigan kundi nagsisilbi din itong bara sa maayos na daloy ng tubig- ulan.”
According to Paje, despite inter-agency efforts the past years, Manila Bay’s waters remain polluted with high levels of coliforms, attributing it to lack of interconnected and efficient sewerage treatment facilities and the increasing presence of informal settlers.
Coliforms are bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal matter from humans and other warm-blooded animals, and some strains of it such as E. coli can cause serious human illnesses.
Relative to this, Paje bared that in the recent meeting at the Supreme Court (SC) in Manila, the Manila Bay Advisory Council headed by SC Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. has given concerned agencies specific directives to reduce the pollution of Manila Bay.
Among these agencies include the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) which was directed to fast-track the determination of private households without facilities for sewage treatment or disposal and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), along with DILG, to “be creative” in planning for the relocation of the informal settlers.
Justice Velasco further directed the DILG to “prosecute [to the level of the Ombudsman] barangay officials who allow or encourage informal settlers to proliferate in their areas of jurisdiction especially along waterways.”
Government reports indicate that the number of informal settlers in the National Capital Region continues to increase by almost 10 percent annually. From 618,819 households in 2005, informal settlers now number 677,684 as of March 2011, or an average of 785 households per month.
The MBAC has also taken to task the Philippine Ports Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard to review existing policies and intensify vigilance in monitoring ships that might be discharging untreated waste into Manila Bay.
For its part, Paje said the DENR will continue to partner with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino to toughen solid waste segregation and collection in the metropolis.
The SC, in a “writ of continuing mandamus” issued in December 2008, tasked 13 government agencies to clean up the bay and restore its waters to SB level. This was followed by a February 15, 2011 ruling that set time frames for the said agencies in performing their tasks as identified in the Operational Plan for Manila Bay Coastal Strategy (OPMBCS). Ayda Zoleta, PAO, DENR