Manila Bay rehabilitation

Progressive lawmakers push for House probe into Manila Bay ‘white sand’ project

Mara Cepeda
Progressive lawmakers push for House probe into Manila Bay ‘white sand’ project

Workers prepare white sand to patch the beach along Manila Bay on Thursday, September 3, 2020 as part of the rehabilitation plan and in preparation for International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 19. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

The progressive lawmakers want the House to determine the 'suitability and sustainability' of the DENR project, which is feared to hurt both public health and the environment

The progressive Makabayan bloc wants a congressional inquiry into the controversial “white sand” project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Manila Bay. 

The following legislators filed House Resolution (HR) No. 1194 on Tuesday, September 8, formally calling for a House probe into the P389-million project:

  • Bayan Muna Representatives Eufemia Cullamat, Ferdinand Gaite, and Carlos Zarate
  • Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas
  • ACT Teachers Representative France Castro
  • Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago

A copy of HR 1194 was sent to reporters on Wednesday, September 9.

The Makabayan bloc wants the House to determine the “suitability and sustainability” of the DENR’s decision to dump crushed dolomite on the 500-meter coastline of Manila Bay as part of its rehabilitation efforts in the area. 

The artificial sand is made from dolomite rock mined in, and transported from, Cebu, but the provincial government said it did not issue any permit for the operations. It was later revealed that it was the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau that green-lighted it.

In filing HR 1194, the Makabayan bloc cited the strong opposition of advocates and environmentalists to the “white sand” project, warning the government that is poses public health risks as well as more environmental problems.  READ: FAST FACTS: What is dolomite sand, and how will it affect Manila Bay?)

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire had already confirmed that dolomite dust can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and discomfort in the gastrointestinal system. 

Advocacy group Oceana Philippines also said the project may harm the natural ecosystem and coastal integrity of Manila Bay, as the white sand “does not appear to be a natural substrate of that portion of the bay.”

Fishermen’s group Pamalakaya also denounced the beautification project as it focuses on the aesthetic improvement of Manila Bay instead of actually addressing the environmental problems that have been plaguing the area.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, however, denied that dolomite – in the form dumped along Manila Bay – would cause respiratory illnesses as he defended his agency’s proposed 2021 budget before lawmakers on Tuesday.

Cimatu insisted that dolomite is safe to use and that several resorts in Cebu have been using the same artificial sand for their beaches.

But a DENR official admitted in the same hearing on Tuesday that the artificial beach is not found in the master plan of the National Economic and Development Authority, which looks into the technical aspects of major projects, as well as their feasibility and sustainability. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.