To Make Manila Bay Clean, Safe, PHL Needs US$1-B Yearly — Brinkman

(SDN) — MANAGING the highly-challenged Manila Bay in a holistic way would require at least an estimated US$1 billion a year.

A June 6, 2019, exchange rate — $1 to 51.79 Philippine pesos (Php) — showed that would amount to around Php52 billion every 12 months.

Maybe not too much to ask in exchange for the Manila Bay’s long-term sustainability to benefit the thousands of people whose livelihood depends on its. Not to mention the marine species and the wildlife thriving because of the bay.

That’s the estimate amount an expert from the Netherlands — JanJaap Brinkman — gave when SDN — Science and Digital News interviewed him. He is a hydrologist with Deltares, an independent Dutch water research institute.

Brinkman is team leader of the Netherlands Expert Team crafting the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP) along with their Filipino counterparts. His business card says he is an expert on integrated water and environmental resources and flood management.

He gave an update on the status of the MBSDMP (The Future of Manila Bay: Sustainable Development Plans for Manila Bay) at the Science Policy and Information Forum on the Sustainability of Manila Bay on May 29 held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), a stone’s throw away from the bay in Pasay City, Metro Manila.


Academician Rhodora Azanza, president of NAST PHL, explains the rationale for the conference tackling Manila Bay problems. (Photo: Gerry Palad, Science and Technology Information Institute, DOST-STII).

The National Academy of Science and Technology of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST- NAST) organized the forum. NAST is mandated by law through Executive Order 818 s. 1982 to serve as adviser to the Philippine President and the Cabinet on policies relating to science and technology in the country.

A battery of speakers discussed Manila Bay’s current status concerning geological, physical, chemical/water quality, biodiversity, fisheries, and aquaculture as NAST gathered recommendations anchored on science for the bay’s sustainability.

The conference also endeavored to learn about the bay’s development and management plans.

Among the many components of the proposed master plan, the most important, Brinkman said, is solid waste management and sewerage.


JanJaap Brinkman, Dutch expert and leader of the Netherlands Expert Team crafting the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan. (Photo: Gerardo ‘Gerry’ Palad, DOST-STII).

Manila Bay wetland tidal habitats down to only 20,400 hectares

In his presentation, the Dutch expert, who was also tapped by the Indonesian government some years back, noted the problems facing 30 million stakeholders along the long coast of Manila Bay, such as declining fisheries, deterioration of water and ecosystems, increasing disaster risks, floods, sinking, and earthquakes.

Now consider that today’s 30 million people living in and around the bay was projected to increase to 50 million in 30 years’ time.

Would it be a surprised, then, if the bay’s coastal wetlands disappear totally, if the problems are not fixed?

Brinkman, citing a study (TEEB 2017), said the economic values of the bay’s ecosystems services and benefits amount to Php5.3 billion while the total economic use values is at Php8.3 billion (DENR-PEMSEA 2006).

He added that some parts of the bay were listed as Key Biodiversity Area that is home to a large number of globally-threatened species — fish, marine mammals and migratory water birds.

The Dutch expert also mentioned that 70 percent of its wetland tidal habitats had already been lost — 84,000 hectares previously, now down to only 20,400 hectares.

He pointed to continued conversion in foreshore areas to fishponds in municipal waters, conversion of mangroves and tidal flats, and land subsidence as the main roots cause for the reduction.

Brinkman enumerated the MBSDMP’s specific objectives and scoping, or terms of reference (ToR), saying public financing is usually tapped for traditional plans for Coastal Management and Development.

On the other hand, the approach for the MBSDMP is geared towards making use of solicited private sector investments to achieve strategic management and development goals for inclusive growth, ecosystem protection, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, water quality improvement, and upgrading informal settlements.

He assured of the inclusive master plan’s ensuring that investments from the private sector will contribute financially, technically, in design capacity, and in management and governance to the agreed development goals, not the least of which improved living conditions in informal settlements.

“The master planning activities,” he said, “will include mechanisms for issuing, granting and monitoring concessions for private investments in and around Manila Bay.”

When he said “in and around Manila Bay,” Brinkman apparently was referring to the eight provinces and 178 local government units (LGUs) belonging to three regions — National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon, and CALABARZON — covered by Manila Bay.

The eight provinces include Bataan, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Rizal, and Tarlac. Manila Bay is around 199,440 hectares with a coastline of 190 kilometers. First four are coastal, the second half non-coastal.


Photo-Op for posterity with NAST PHL president Acd. Rhodora Azanza, 3rd from left, with speakers at the conference. (Photo: Gerardo ‘Gerry’ Palad, DOST-STII)

“So, we are assisting NEDA to make a master plan for Manila Bay, to make Manila Bay clean and safe place, helping to understand what should Manila Bay be, inclusive growth, ecosystem protection, water pollutant, disaster risk reduction and, also very important, climate change adaptation, which also is very close to the objective of the action program of the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte),” Brinkman said.

NEDA is the National Economic and Development Authority.

Large areas of Metro Manila, nearby regions sinking

“Basically, we are busy with the medium-term and long-term plan, and the President is busy with the short-term plan. We try to connect it.”

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered

He said they will make public by October this year the first version of the master plan, and a year after for it completion.

Emphasizing that figures are still being worked out, Brinkman said he would not be surprised “if the master plan, including all sewerage, water supply, treatment, safety, disaster risk reduction measures, all these things which are many, many different topics, restoration of the fisheries, restoration of ecosystem, all that kind of things…if it would reach US$1 billion per year.”

He added, “We are talking about 50 million people.”

The Netherlands national also noted that large areas of the country are “sinking,” and definitely, Manila Bay, so as Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, people and also agriculture still using deep ground water.

As a result, he said, ground water is sinking. In the past, water was only 20 meters deep into the ground. But now in many places it’s already 60 meters deep.

“In these 40 meters (difference) the soil starts to compact that causes of a lot of sinking, which is a real problem because it’s sinking under sea level, (and causes) a lot of flooding.”

Manila Bay PRA

Approved and proposed Manila Bay reclamation projects presented. (Source: Philippine Reclamation Authority) 

Are clearance from DENR a major factor

Another speaker/presenter at the DOST-NAST conference on Manila Bay, lawyer Joseph John Literal, assistant general manager for Reclamation and Regulation at the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), showed the extent of reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

He hastened to add the projects will be evaluated not on a per project basis but together.

“Even if (a reclamation plan) is already approved, it can still be withdrawn…as it still needs area clearance (which is a major aspect),” he emphasized.

“Actually, it’s a small (portion of Manila Bay), only 4.7 percent (of the 199,440 hectares is covered by the reclamation projects).”

“Not all will be approved,” he said, as he pointed out that PRA is with the Manila Bay master plan under the groups of Dutch and Filipino teams.

“Let’s say that all the 4.7 hectares will be approved, the most important (aspect) is environmental (impact). We cannot evaluate (a reclamation project) unless there is area clearance from DENR (Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources),” said Literal, at the same time saying projects would have passed through a fine tooth comb through DENR evaluation.

He reiterated that issuance of area clearance is one of the major requirements because other mandatory requirements may not be accomplished, “although we need them.”

Executive Order 74, he said, prohibits approval of a reclamation project with DENR area clearance.

As of the time Literal made his presentation, he showed there are six approved projects, and 14 proposed reclamation projects.

Other speakers, aside from Brinkman and Literal, were Academician L. Villanoy of the NAST Mathematics and Physical Sciences Division, Jacob F. Meimban, deputy executive director of the Manila Coordinating Office of DENR, Dr. Gil S. Jacinto of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), and Eligio P. Fortajada, acting manager of the Project Management Office, NCR South, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

Perhaps, all things considered, a change of mindset among the people living in and around Manila Bay must also be included in the focused of the master plan, taking a cue from the DENR leadership.

“If they ask me what is the most difficult part in rehabilitating Manila Bay, I would say it is to change our people’s behavior and attitude,” said DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu.

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the cleanup and rehabilitation of the bay in January, which was carried on January 27 with thousands of people lending their hands. For the love of Manila Bay and the environment.

He decided on the cleanup following his order to cleanup the world-famous Boracay Beach which he dubbed “a cesspool.”

The President later created a body called the Manila Bay Task Force (MBTF) through Executive Order 16 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to continue and speed up the bay’s rehabilitation and restoration.

On December 18, 2008, the Supreme Court issued Mandamus G.R. No. 171947-48 directing “13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay and preserve and maintain its water to SB level.”

The High Tribunal identified the 13 mandamus agencies, such as the DENR, DILG, Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of the Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police-Maritime Group (PNP-MG), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (MWSS), and Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA). (SDN) 

This story was updated for additional information.

Sources: Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan, Manila Bay Rehabilitation Plan 2019, and Reclamation Plans for Manila Bay.

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