Will Duterte flush these ‘toilet bowls?’

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What happened to Boracay proved very costly to Filipinos. Aside from the estimated P4.2 billion bill in cleaning up the world famous island resort, tens of billions of pesos in tourism income are expected to be lost during its closure from April to October this year.

In 2017, the island generated revenues of P56 billion. The government also earned P6.7 billion from the value-added tax (VAT) on tourism receipts. So, the shutdown is likely to deny also the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) at least half of the VAT generated last year.

In addition to these losses, the displaced 36,000 workers in Boracay will not earn as much as they used to. In July, the Department of Labor and Employment shelled out more than P8 million in cash assistance to nearly 2,000 displaced workers.

Economic managers cited the six-month Boracay shutdown as one of the reasons the gross domestic product in the second quarter went down to 6 percent from 6.6 percent in the first quarter.

That’s the big headache caused by irresponsible businessmen and officials of Boracay. Of course, the waste generated by millions of tourists and thousands of locals added to the sanitation concerns. They really turned the island into a “cesspool” as President Duterte called it. Hopefully, when his order to rehabilitate the island is over by October and a viable control of tourist traffic and more responsible stakeholders follow, Boracay will no longer turn into a “cesspool” in the future.

If just a 10.32 square kilometer piece of land can cost so much to clean up, how much more if it is 55, 88 or 193 times bigger?

Boracay is not the only “cesspool” that needs to be rehabilitated. In Luzon alone, there are the polluted Pasig River, Laguna Lake and Manila Bay.

At a Senate hearing on the rehabilitation of Manila Bay in May, environmental activist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Antonio Oposa described Manila Bay as a toilet bowl that’s used every day but never flushed. Oposa based his comment on the fact that the human waste bacteria count in the waters of Manila Bay is five million per 100 milliliters. The safe level is 200 most probable number per 100 milliliter.

It was Oposa who filed in 1998 a court petition compelling 13 government agencies to rehabilitate the 2,000-square-kilometer Manila Bay. The case reached the Supreme Court which ordered the said agencies in December 2008 to clean up the bay. Unfortunately, the order has yet to be followed until today. Sen. Cynthia Villar, in another Senate hearing in June, called for compliance with the order.

On Wednesday, Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza asked officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources why they are not cleaning up Manila Bay and Laguna Lake which is heavily silted because of too much fish pens.

Part of the pollution problem in Manila Bay and Laguna Lake is the Pasig River which links the two bodies of water. Efforts to clean up the river, which is biologically dead since 1990, were made in 1991 using the strategy of removing informal settlers along its banks. The opposition of the settlers to their relocation and violent demolitions hampered the rehabilitation.

Obviously, it was overwhelming for the 13 agencies to clean up the bay. How much more if the lake and river are included? The DENR managed to respond to the Supreme Court ruling by coming up with a so-called Operational Plan for The Manila Bay Coastal Strategy to be implemented during the period 2017 to 2022. So far, no concrete steps have been taken to execute the plan.

Perhaps, the Boracay shutdown can serve as a blueprint and inspiration for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, Laguna Lake and Pasig River. An upscaled version of such rehabilitation, plus Duterte’s will, may finally flush the Manila Bay “toilet bowl.”

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