Crowding at Manila dolomite beach draws calls to open more public spaces

INTERAKSYON

Crowds gather as they wait for the famous Manila Bay sunset at the Manila Dolomite Beach during its second day being open on Oct. 24, 2021. (The STAR/Miguel de Guzman)

Calls for more outdoor public spaces and for the government to open cemeteries on November holidays emerged after thousands of Filipinos were seen flocking at the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach over the weekend.

The deputy executive director of the Manila Bay Coordinating Office acknowledged that tens of thousands of Filipinos previously went to the government’s beach nourishment project.

The Manila Police District shared that some 65,000 people in total went to the area on Sunday alone.

Jacob Meimban Jr., deputy executive director of the Manila Bay Coordinating Office, said that authorities did everything they could to control the crowd in the area.

The area was closed for at least an hour on Sunday after around 4,000 visitors entered the area early morning.

But Meimban said that the closed gates had only led to congestion. He added that it was especially a challenge to control the crowd in late afternoon because they wanted to see the Manila Bay sunset. This made people stay for one to two hours, he said.

“Nag-try kami na isarado ang gate, at hanggang ganoon lang ‘yung capacity, halimbawa ay 1,000. Kaya lang, ang nangyari ay nagkaroon ng congestion sa labas. Ibig sabihin sa labas ng gate, mas makitid ‘yun. At thousands of people ay nakalinya, nakapila, at mas delikado ‘yan. Dikit-dikit sila,” he told DZMM Teleradyo.

“So ang unang ginawa namin nung nakaraang linggo, imbis na isarado ang gate at maglagay lang kami ng limit, ay hindi pwede mangyari ‘yon. Minabuti namin na buksan na lang ang gate at papasukin na lang lahat,” Meimban added.

He said that while people seemed crowded in pictures, the crowd still had an “elbow room” where they can walk and go around as compared to their situation at the closed gates.

In another report, Meimban was cited as saying that the dolomite beach, which measures 1.2 hectares, can only accommodate up to 5,000 people.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that it will implement a 15-minute limit to people who will visit the area in the future.

It will also be closed for one day every week for its maintenance.

The DENR also said that it will coordinate with the relevant authorities–the Philippine National Police, Philippine Coast Guard, Metro Manila Development Authority, and the local government of Manila–to discuss other crowd control measures.

The Palace also reminded the public that minors are only allowed outside for essential activities, which does not include visiting the dolomite beach.

For precautionary measures against COVID-19, the Department of Health advises individuals to maintain a physical distance of at least one-meter from each other. This is nearly equivalent to a motorcycle’s length.

The crowd surge amid the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some Filipinos calling for more outdoor public spaces. Experts have said that outdoor activities, compared to those done indoors, reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by 94%.

“I hope policymakers see this and go ‘we need more open space’ and not ‘we need more dolomite,'” a Twitter user said in response to a video of the crowd at the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach.

“If only public parks are being constantly improved and made as accessible like this one by the LGUs. #OpenSpaceNaman,” another online user wrote.

“(People) going to the dolomite beach speak volumes — the metro needs open and green spaces,” a different user tweeted.

Juxtaposed: Reopening of Manila dolomite beach and closure of cemeteries

Others juxtaposed the dolomite beach’s opening to that of cemeteries’ closure from October 29 to November 2 or during the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day holidays. This will be the second time that the memorial gardens will be closed due to the pandemic.

Cemeteries are also open spaces.

“Thousands troop to Manila Bay dolomite beach. And then, cemeteries will be closed on All Saints Day?!” a Twitter user said with an eyeroll emoji.

“Weird lang ayaw buksan ng todo ang mga establishments, ‘di pwede magpunta ng sementeryo sa undas dahil super spreader eme daw, pero ang DOLOMITE BEACH ok lang?” another online user said.

A parish priest of the St. John Paul II Parish in Quezon City also shared the same sentiment.

“Alin ba ang mas importante? Ang ating malalim na religious tradition na dumalaw sa ating mga mahal sa buhay na pumanaw na o ‘yung magpunta sa beach?” Fr. Aris Sison said in an interview.

“Kung ili-limit ang dami ng tao, ‘di ganun din sa sementeryo para lang consistent tayo kasi nakakalito,” he added, referring to the dolomite beach.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said that Filipinos can visit their loved ones in cemeteries except during the dates of closure. He added that these venues should only allow visitors 30% of its capacity.

Open spaces in Manila

Meanwhile, to address the need for open spaces, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that the Intramuros Administration will soon open its open-air sites as venues for morning exercises for the vulnerable starting October 30.

These are namely the elderlies, those with disabilities, pregnant women and those with health risks.

Two hours will be allotted for exercise activities at Fort Santiago and Baluarte de San Diego every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Vulnerable individuals who are fully vaccinated can avail of the arrangement through an advance ticket reservation system.

“We see this as an opportunity for the vulnerable sector to enjoy the green spaces of Intramuros for their overall health and well-being,” Puyat said in a release.

“As we have recently welcomed visitors ages 18 to 65, we are making the place more inclusive by providing a dedicated period where our senior citizens, persons with disability, pregnant women, and persons with health risks can enjoy a time in Intramuros safely,” she added.

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