A look at Manila Bay’s pollution and the Clean Water Act of 2004

January 17, 2019 - 2:20 PM
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Manila Bay with trash
People cleaning up a polluted Manila Bay. (The STAR/KJ Rosales)

The Department of the Environment and Natural Resources is taking aim at establishments near Manila Bay which have violated environmental laws passed way back in the early 2000s.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said that hotels, resorts, restaurants and similar establishments will be facing a fine of P20,000 to P200,000 every day for violations incurred starting from the time DENR has taken their water samples.

This is in light of the upcoming Manila Bay rehabilitation program that will be launched on January 27, 2019. It aims to restore the bay’s pristine condition that is supposedly ideal for recreational purposes.

DENR has begun to inspect establishments near the bay and has given orders for them to put up their own sewage treatment plants. Part of their initiative includes taking water samples of the establishments’ wastewater discharge.

“We will examine wastewater discharge [from the establishments] and show them the results. The procedure will be to speak with them and inform them of the requirements, such as the treatment plant. They have to comply or else we will shut them down,” Cimatu said in an interview.

He noted that Republic Act 9275 or the “Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004” will be strictly implemented as part of the agency’s measures to rehabilitate the heavily-polluted bay.

The law was similarly enforced when DENR closed down Boracay for six months following massive environmental concerns.

Initial inspection by the agency reveals that nine out of 19 bathing beaches and stations along Manila Bay are extremely polluted, having high coliform levels.

Manila Baywalk
A cleanup operation last year that turned out to be for “publicity” only (The Star/File photo)

Coliform is used to determine water quality as it is believed to be associated with sources of disease-causing organisms that contaminate water.

DENR found out that waters near the Cultural Center of the Philippines, SM Mall of Asia, Navotas Fishport, Philippine Estates Authority Tollways Corp., Rizal Park, San Isidro, Villa Criselda Resort and Mattel and Celebrity Beach are some bodies that contain high amounts of coliform.

Reviewing the policy on water pollution

The Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 was established to protect, preserve and revive water quality of the country’s resources.

It mandates DENR to coordinate with the National Water Resources Board in rehabilitating and improving different bodies of water that may be polluted and affected by improper waste disposal.

Under the law, it is prohibited to discharge “material of any kind” to water bodies—including groundwaters—in an indirect or direct manner. Some specific violations include:

  • Disposal of potentially infectious medical waste into sea water by vessels unless the health or safety of individuals on board the vessel is threatened by a great and imminent peril;
  • Unauthorized transport or dumping into sea waters of sewage sludge or solid waste;
  • Transport, dumping or discharge of prohibited chemicals, substances or pollutants;
  • Operate facilities that discharge or allow to seep, willfully or through gross negligence, prohibited chemicals, substances or pollutants;
  • Undertaking activities or development and expansion of projects, or operating wastewater/sewerage facilities in violation of Presidential Decree No. 1586

Furthermore, facilities and establishments are supposed to secure discharge permits subjected to the approval of the environmental agency.

Violators of the provisions will be sanctioned with a penalty fee that amounts from P10,000 to P200,000. It will be imposed every day until specific actions are taken against water pollution.

Personnel responsible will be facing jail time from two to four years and be required to pay P50,000 to P100,000 every day if there are no initiatives taken.

If the refusal to the agency’s order causes “irreversible water contamination,” the personnel/s involved shall be imprisoned for six to twelve years and be fined for P500,000 for each day of violation. Otherwise, criminal charges may be filed by DENR.