DENR execs lauded for ‘white sands’ project

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    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night gave officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led by Secretary Roy Cimatu a pat on the back for the clean-up and beautification of Manila Bay despite criticisms and controversies hounding the project.

    Duterte, during his weekly “Talk to the People” public address, said Cimatu earned his administration anew for accepting Malacanang’s dare to clean, rehabilitate and beautify Manila Bay.

    “People are now enjoying the benefits of the determined action of a Cabinet member to do good,” Duterte said, adding: “What I am trying to impress also upon the people is that we are doing our job, period.”

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, meanwhile, praised the controversial Manila Bay “white sands beach” area as he and several officials of the US Embassy visited the area yesterday.

    Locsin said he was “stunned” by the beauty of the area. The portion of the bay filled with crushed dolomite rocks is beside the US Embassy compound on Roxas Boulevard.

    The controversial “white sands beach” at the Manila Bay is part of the P389 million beautification program of the DENR though it has been slammed by various environmental groups and Vice President Leni Robredo, who said it was insensitive and insulting to spend that amount amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Department of Health also said the crushed dolomite rocks may pose health problems such as respiratory diseases, though it later backtracked on that claim.

    The “white sands” project, which was opened to the public over the weekend, attracted thousands of people who disregarded physical distancing as they jostled for position to get a glimpse of the controversial area.

    The crush of people ignoring physical distancing led to the relief of the Ermita Police station chief, Lt. Col. Ariel Caramoan, on orders of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

    Duterte acknowledged criticisms from several sectors about the conduct of the project amid the pandemic but expressed the belief that some people would continue to criticize regardless if the government went ahead and succeeded with the cleanup or if it delayed the project.

    “Let us begin by congratulating Secretary Cimatu…. Now, people now are really enjoying the reclaimed area with the white sand maski na papaano. Wala naman talaga tayong magawa. You do it, may masabi sila. You do not do it, may masabi si Leni (Let us begin by congratulating Secretary Cimatu…. Now, people now are really enjoying the reclaimed area with the white sand no matter what. We really cannot do anything. You do it, they will say something. You do not do it, (Vice President Leni) will say something),” he said.

    Duterte also acknowledged the support of his Cabinet, claiming he would have a very hard time running the country if it were not for them.

    The DENR started in January last year the rehabilitation of the Manila Baywalk area which include cleaning and improving water quality, sewer line rehabilitation, informal settler relocation, public education and law enforcement.

    The Manila Bay area covers eight provinces and 178 local government units in three regions of the country: National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.
    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the DENR is verifying reports the extraction of the dolomite rocks used at the Manila Bay project had damaged the environment, particularly the corals, in Alcoy, Cebu.

    Roque said the DENR will look at possible measures to avoid a repeat of the incident, if it is true, and how to save the part of the environment that may have been destroyed.

    He, however, questioned the complaint being raised now since dolomite harvesting had always been part of the jobs in Alcoy.

    “This is not the first time that they sold dolomite. The whole municipality relies on the sale of dolomite. That has long been practiced and the main source of employment in Alcoy, Cebu,” he said.

    The Manila Police District said the public can take pictures from afar of the controversial “white sands beach” but will not be permitted to step foot on the area because it has been ordered closed by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

    On Monday, Moreno asked the DENR to temporarily close the area to the public while construction activities are still ongoing. – Ashzel Hachero