Just how filthy is Manila Bay?

By CNN Philippines Staff

The government is undertaking a ₱42 billion rehabilitation of the iconic Manila Bay in the hopes to turn parts of its dark, murky waters into a swimmable beach by this year.

But exactly how filthy is the iconic bay?

Environment Undersecretary Sherwin Rigor told CNN Philippines’ The Source that in some areas, levels of fecal coliform, a group of bacteria which may cause illness in humans, in Manila Bay reach nearly 2 billion most probable number (MPN) for every 100 milliliters (ml), when the safe level is below 200 MPN/100 ml.

Rigor said coliform levels in waters at the Libertad Channel near the reclaimed land where SM Mall of Asia stands clock in at 1 billion MPN/100 ml, while coliform levels near the Port Area is at 1.1 billion MPN/100 ml. Near the Manila Yacht Club, coliform levels reach 1.4 billion MPN/100 ml, while coliform levels in Vitas in Navotas City is at 1.99 billion MPN/100 ml.

On average, fecal coliform levels in Manila Bay each 330 million MPN/100 ml, Rigor said.

“So lahat ‘yan [everyone] — the informal settlers, the industries, the establishments, the residential and of course, ‘yung ating [our] daily population. Everybody has [a] part dito sa [here in this] pollution loading na ‘yan,” he said.

Just last Sunday, the day when the government kicked off the Manila Bay’s rehabilitation, the Metro Manila Development Authority collected 45 truckloads of garbage from the bay. Rigor said a truck can carry five to 10 tons at a time.

Even with this much trash floating around Manila Bay, the government would only be spending ₱6 billion in the next three years to clean it up. Rigor said most of the funding — or ₱36 billion — would go to the relocation of some 233,000 informal settler families around the bay in the next 10 years.

Government agencies are also training their sights on closing down even more establishments found to violate proper solid waste disposal guidelines, having already closed water facilities of events venue One Esplanade, and restaurants Aristocrat and Gloria Maris.

They are also eyeing “coercive actions” against subdivisions that refuse to install wastewater treatment facilities, but Rigor did not say anything further about these actions.

Meanwhile, the government will start cleaning up the Manila Bay from “Ground Zero” or the area near the Yacht Club and the U.S. Embassy and will move inward, as opposed to starting upstream, which Rigor said is a “geographical challenge.”

Simultaneous cleanup efforts will also be happening at the “main effort” — or in Metro Manila — and the “secondary effort” in Cavite, Bataan, Pampanga and Bulacan provinces, where half of the government’s funds for the rehabilitation will be spent.

The government eyes Manila Bay to have swimmable beaches by this year and have it cleaned-up and rehabilitated by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term — but is it possible?

“‘Yun din ‘yung sinabi nung Boracay eh. Kaya ba namin? Nakita namin, and we took the challenge and we triumphed it,” Rigor said. “And we saw Boracay was too small for us.”

Manila Bay will be the fourth place to be rehabilitated by the government under the Duterte administration.

Its cleanup follows Boracay, which was closed for six months and affected thousands of workers and hundreds of establishments, Panglao Island in Bohol, and in El Nido, Palawan.

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