Building sand castles

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    ‘The funny thing is, going by the opinion of environmentalists and scientists, the DENR can keep being on the defensive, until we all wake up in a few weeks’ time to see that the shore of Manila Bay returning to its old state, minus the crushed dolomite rock they dumped on it.’

    IN a strange twist, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Government, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to move tons of “white sand” from Cebu to Manila Bay to cover the shore line. According to government spokespersons, the move was seen to boost the mental health of Pinoys who have been locked down for almost six months. I’m not exactly sure what that means, given that most Pinoys are quarantined at home, and those allowed outside are engaged in a day-to-day battle against catching the dreaded coronavirus.

    Are citizens supposed to frolic on the white sand, lie down and bask in the sun? Negative, because gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and the PNP is supposed to be scouring social media for people who are violating quarantine restrictions. Are essential workers expected to take time away from their jobs and their hours-long commute in order to decompress by Manila Bay? Doubtful. So the only real possibility left is that stressed citizens are supposed to look at photos or videos of the Manila Bay shoreline, now newly white, in order to forget their woes. Huh! One wonders how much taxpayers had to cough up for this sand castle building folly, and how this expense could have been avoided by just searching for beach photos on the internet, given that realistically, no one can frolic or laze around by the shore anyway.

    What is more irksome is that this supposed white sand is actually crushed dolomite rock that can cause respiratory issues when inhaled. If you don’t believe me, go ask Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who cautioned the public about the ill-effects of inhaling and ingesting crushed dolomite rock. Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino: “Based on studies and medical literature, it can cause respiratory issues to a person. Kapag napunta sa mata, magkakaroon ng konting irritation. Kapag na-ingest, magkakaroon ng gastro-intestinal discomfort, pagkakasakit ng tiyan at pagtatae…ito ‘yung minor effects.”
    Vergeire stepped back and refused to completely demolish the DENR initiative, saying she assumed that the department studied the project before implementing it.

    News reports cited several Cebu provincial board members expressing alarm at the extraction and transport of the dolomite rocks, saying that it was done without a permit from the local government. It’s fairly clear that none of the stakeholders knew about the entire project, judging by the reactions. Environmental experts outside of the DENR have already raised questions about the sustainability of blanketing the shore line with crushed dolomite, with Professor Mahar Lagmay predicting that the synthetic white sand will eventually be washed out by storm surges or high tide (the latter, of course, happens on a daily basis – because you know, science.)

    Right now the DENR is on the defensive, calling on the critics of the project to know all the details first before criticizing the pie-in-the-sky project. By way of defense, the money for the project was supposed to have been part of last year’s project, specifically for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. Isn’t government hard up for funding, as President Duterte continually laments during his once-a-week proof of life videos? Could this project not have been postponed to a time when the nation (and the entire world) is undergoing a public health crisis and a recession? Obviously, it could have been, but I doubt we’ll hear anyone from government admitting that they made a mistake here.

    The funny thing is, going by the opinion of environmentalists and scientists, the DENR can keep being on the defensive, until we all wake up in a few weeks’ time to see that the shore of Manila Bay returning to its old state, minus the crushed dolomite rock they dumped on it. Mother Nature has a curious way of foiling people’s plans, the DENR included.

    Who knows, in their quest to keep gaslighting the public in order to defend their folly, they just might add a few dolphins so cabinet officials can swim in Manila Bay and take a breather. Just saying.