Whitening the beach instead of flattening the curve

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    `What is interesting to note is that Secretary Cimatu has been quiet on the issue, allowing only the presidential spokesman and Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, a former newsman, to defend the project.’

    THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under Secretary Roy Cimatu has come up with this Imeldific idea of moving tons of pulverized dolomite rocks from Cebu and dumping them on the shorelines of Manila Bay to create a mini-Boracay effect. The idea was straight from the playbook of First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos during the halcyon days of the Marcos dictatorship, when anything that the Madame thought of about “the good, the true, and the beautiful” could see the light of day with funding from the martial law regime.

    Cimatu has so endeared himself to President Duterte that he has become the uncontested “trouble shooter” of Malacañang, doing the peripatetic move of shuttling from Cebu to Bacolod to stem the wave of the coronavirus epidemic, and gaining some success. This translates to Cimatu’s getting the ear of the President in matters like this one, which is within the ambit of his department, the DENR.

    The rationale behind the beach-whitening project at Baywalk is that it will be a huge curiosity and will attract tourists, therefore will create jobs and revenues for the government. Secretary Harry Roque even hailed the idea as having a soothing effect on the population, giving Filipinos in Metro Manila the chance to relax and view the iconic Manila Bay sunset while stepping on an artificial white beach. Roque’s touting that the experience would make the residents forget the devastation, hunger, worries, and psychological instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is quite a stretch. It is good for your mental health, he says.

    Officials like Vice President Leonor Robredo, Rep. Carlos Zarate, former representative Terry Ridon, members of the scientific and academic community, and Duterte critics are correct in shooting down the whitening project as ill-timed, expensive, and out of place at a time when the nation is still trying to raise its head above water, economically speaking. The money allocated for the Manila Bay whitening project dubbed as “beach nourishment” should be used instead in more health interventions to fight the coronavirus and “flatten the curve.”

    What is interesting to note is that Secretary Cimatu has been quiet on the issue, allowing only the presidential spokesman and Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, a former newsman, to defend the project. Do allow us to digress a bit. It was another media man before him — Angelito Banayo — who first conceptualized and implemented the Baywalk project, and after several years and millions of pesos lost, what Banayo had to show us is a decrepit structure that no one even wants to visit. And now it is Benny’s turn to scalp.

    The Manila Bay project involves two areas: Manila and Cebu. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno cautiously endorsed the project, saying there should be a presumption of regularity in what the DENR wants to do. Moreno presupposes that being experts in their field which is environmental protection, Cimatu and Antiporda know what they are doing.

    It is quite the reverse in Cebu, specifically in Alcoy and Dalaguete towns, where the dolomite quarries are located. The Cebu Provincial Board has questioned how the dolomite was transported — cleared by the regional Mines and Geosciences Bureau — out of the province without them knowing it.

    Meanwhile, Terry Ridon urged the government to reject the 500-meter Manila Bay white sand project with a P795,000-per meter tag price. He said the P397.897-million budget for the project should be better spent for anti-COVID-19 measures. He also claimed, just like others, that the use of dolomite sand as beach top fill causes cancer, silicosis, bronchitis, emphysema and lung failure, just to name a few.

    Already, critics and environment advocates are planning to file a writ of kalikasan petition at the Supreme Court to stop the project. Let us watch and see how this thing develops.