A cannon for Manila Bay

On 12 June, there will be a “Heritage Cannon” on the dolomite beach and it will most probably fire a deafening shot (sans projectile) to celebrate the 124th anniversary of our Independence. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) aims “ to encourage patriotism among the public and to signify that the battle to clean up Manila Bay is not yet over, “ said Jonas R. Leones, Undersecretary for Policy Planning and International Affairs. The “Heritage Cannon”, a relic of World War II, used to be on Fort Drum Island, also known as El Fraile, south of Corregidor.

On regular “ Level One” days, the DENR allows as many as 3,500 (vaccinated) people into the enchanted confines of their 90-feet long, Php389 million artificial beach. However, swimming is strictly prohibited. The Manila Bay Coordinating Office warns that bay water still has dangerous levels of fecal coliform, but by the end of the year 2022, this will definitely improve. For now, “beach goers” can play games, saunter and romp on pulverized dolomite, or sit and relax while admiring the magnificent sunset of Manila Bay.

On Independence Day, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) usually arranges simultaneous flag-raising ceremonies– at the Rizal Park, Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Bonifacio’s Monument in Balintawak, the Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolución at the North Ceremony and in various military camps. In the past, sitting presidents have raised the flag at Rizal Park or at Aguinaldo’s residence. I wonder if the DENR will steal NHCP’S thunder with the unveiling of its vintage cannon on the dolomite beach? Did both agencies talk about it? When I last looked, the Corregidor Foundation was attached to the Department of Tourism. Was this informed about the removal of the cannon?

No, the battle to clean Manila Bay is certainly not yet over, and dumping construction-quality dolomite defeats the purpose because that alien material contains heavy metals like lead, mercury and aluminum. We were informed by responsible media sources that dolomite is mined and extracted from one of the remaining forests of Cebu which is home to various endemic species of flora and fauna. The rehabilitation of one area should not be a threat to another.

The Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya, a federation of small fisherfolk) has consistently denounced this DENR project. I would too, in their place. Down to quick, aesthetic fixes; let us plant mangroves instead!

Have you heard that a hitherto unknown sardine species was recently found in Manila Bay? So, the bay, once cleaned, can actually be a reserve for the Sardinella Pacifica; I am a sardine-eater so I want this to happen in my lifetime.

There are coral reefs of the soft coral xenia type subsisting at the mouth of polluted Manila Bay, detected by no less than the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau of the DENR. These are feeble signs of hope.

Whatever happened to the Supreme Court Mandamus of 18 Dec 2008? It directed 13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to levels fit for swimming, skin-diving and other forms of contact recreation. To complement this SC ruling, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte issued an Executive Order to speed up the rehabilitation. So, local government authorities have relocated thousands of urban poor residents and have begun planting mangroves while sponsoring various clean-up drives.

We, heritage advocates, are concerned about the 25 Manila Bay reclamation projects. Instead of implementing the Supreme Court Mandamus, it seems that Manila Bay and all its pollution problems will be made to disappear through reclamation. No more Manila Bay, no more problems.

It can be argued that as early as the American colonial regime, reclamation was undertaken to construct Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard from Fort San Antonio Abad in Malate to the border of Cavite. The US embassy, Army Navy Club, Manila Hotel, Elks Club are all on reclaimed land. Of Manila Bay’s 199, 400 hectares, 660 hectares were reclaimed during the Ferdinand Marcos, Sr regime to include 77 hectares for the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex. In President Diosdado Macapagal’s rule, an American businessman, Harry Stonehill, profited from reclamation. At present there at least 25 reclamation projects being offered to Manila, Pasay, Cavite and other local government units a whiffing distance from the historic bay.

The City Government of Manila seems enthralled with “The City of Pearl–New Manila Bay International Community”, 407 hectares of mixed-use “planned townships” proposed by the UAA Kinming for the BASECO area. Manila approved this in 2017.

Installing a cannon on the dolomite beach is DENR’S symbol that the battle to clean Manila Bay is not over. I cannot help but suspect that the fastest and most profitable way (for vested interests) to clean up Manila Bay is to reclaim land and dry out its pesky contaminated waters. The sunset will still be there but you’ll have to live in a yacht or a mammoth hi-rise to even see it.