Palace defends Manila Bay "white sand" project, saying it was planned before pandemic, beach enhancement
Malacanang defended on Monday the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ( DENR) "white sand" project in Manila Bay, saying it has a budget allocation even prior to coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the project is also "beach enhancement," which can prevent soil erosion and help in flood control.
"This plan to put white sand in Manila Bay has been part of the 2020 budget. It means, this was approved in 2019. We did not expect to have this COVID-19. So, you know the rules on budget that if it's line item, you can only use the fund for that," he said.
Saying that he came from Manila since he was born at the Philippine General Hospital, Roque said he was happy that there is a beautification effort in Manila Bay.
"We, who are from Manila, need to have access to a beautiful beach in this time that we can't go out of Metro Manila. But what they are doing is called as beach enhancement, so, it's not only beautification. This beach enhancement is to prevent soil erosion and to help in the flood control," the spokesman explained.
He also assured that before the DENR started the project, it conducted an environmental impact assessments and engineering work.
"They placed tubes on the sand perimeter to avoid the sand being washed away because primarily, this is an anti-soil erosion project," Roque added.
The white sand project reportedly amounting to P389 million for the heavily polluted Manila Bay drew criticisms from various sectors, such Vice President Leni Robredo and some environmental groups.
Robredo said it was insensitive for the government to do the beautification project while many Filipinos are suffering due to health crisis brought by coronavirus disease.
Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Ramos, in a virtual forum on Monday, said they were "alarmed" by the "beautification" project being undertaken by the DENR.
She noted that the continuing mandamus ordered by the Supreme Court in 2008 for several government agencies was to rehabilitate Manila Bay.
"What (DENR) has been doing is that they are dumping alien materials (in Manila Bay)," she said.
Lou Arsenio, Program Coordinator of the Ministry of Ecology of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, wondered if the DENR conducted a scientific study in dumping crushed dolomite in the bay.
She called the DENR's action as "adding insult to the injury."
"We don't see it sustainable...instead of addressing ecological problems, they apparently even added to the problems," she added.,
Ramos, who is also a lawyer, said the project could be stopped even if there was an allocation.
She noted that under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, President Rodrigo Duterte was given by Congress the authority to realign the 2020 budget to COVID-19 response.
"This (white sand project) should be last priority," she said.
She added that her group would be talking with others to determine if they would file any action, such as the petition for a writ of kalikasan, before the Supreme Court.
The writ of kalikasan is a remedy available to a natural or juridical person, entity authorized by law, people’s organization, non-governmental organization, or any public interest group accredited by or registered with any government agency, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. Celerina Monte/DMS