BY VICTOR REYES and Ashzel Hachero
PNP chief Camilo Cascolan yesterday said the public was partly to blame for physical distancing violations at the “white sands” area of Manila Bay that was mobbed by people over the weekend as he defended a Manila Police station chief who was relieved for failing to enforce health protocols.
While Cascolan resorted to finger pointing, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to temporarily close the area and appealed to the public to temporarily put on hold their plans to visit the controversial site amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said closing the area to the public is necessary since there are still construction works going on.
“I already asked the DENR to close the area, ‘yung bakod, since it is still a hard hat area, may construction pa naman sa area,” Moreno said after flag raising rites at the City Hall.
“We will try to put order in the area.”
The uncontrolled surge of people visiting the area, which had been paved over with dolomite, led to the PNP relieving Lt. Col. Ariel Caramoan, the commander of Station 5 (Ermita) of the Manila Police District, on orders of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Cascolan, however, had a different take, saying: “I would like to be frank, hindi lang ho pulis ang may kasalanan dito (it’s not only the police which is at fault here).”
But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año disagreed, saying the PNP and the local government of Manila were the main culprits.
“The Philippine National Police should have prepared for that,” Año said, adding the PNP should have deployed more policemen and barriers in anticipation of the large number of people coming to see the Manila Bay project.
“And, of course, the Manila LGU, dapat talaga nakapag-prepare tayo dito (we should have prepared for this),” added Año.
In a press briefing at Camp Crame, Cascolan said: “Lahat po tayo, hindi ba dapat matuto tayo. (We’re all to blame, isn’t it? We should learn our lesson).” He, however, said it was only proper to relieve Caramoan for command responsibility.
Lt. Col. Alex Daniel has been designated as the officer-in-charge of the station, according to PNP Deputy Chief for Administration and concurrent Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar.
“Siguro naman ho sasabihin niyo sa amin mali yata ‘yun pero dapat isipin niyo saan din kayo nagkamali. (Maybe, you’ll say it’s wrong but you should think where you made a mistake),” Cascolan added.
Año said the DENR opened the project for public viewing but added this was on a limited basis only.
Año also called on the public to observe physical distancing, noting that Metro Manila is still under general community quarantine.
Photos of people ignoring physical distancing to get a good vantage point at the area were all over the papers and social media over the weekend.
Moreno reminded the public of the dangers of ignoring health protocols, saying:
“Alam ko marami sainyo ang nasisiyahan, nagagalak na ang imposible ay naging posible pero nais kong ipaalala na mayroon pang pandemya. Mayroon pang pangamba at panganib sa lungsod ng Maynila (I know many of you are happy and excited that what was once deemed as impossible has become possible, but remember, there is still a pandemic),” Moreno said.
He told the public to postpone planned visits to the area since they have seen it on various media.
“All of us are taking responsibility for the matter and I think we all learned a lesson here,” Moreno added.
The controversial “white sands” beach at Manila Bay is part of the P389 million beautification project of the DENR that has been slammed by various environmental groups and Vice President Leni Robredo, who said it was insensitive and insulting amid the difficulties posed by the pandemic.
The Department of Health also said the crushed dolomite rocks used by the DENR may
pose health problems such as respiratory diseases, though it later backtracked.
The new Ermita police station commander said they will enforce the closure of the area and strictly enforce health protocols.
“I appeal to the public to just wait for the opening so that the guidelines will be clear,” Daniel said, adding more than 20 cops have been deployed to secure the area.