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The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to rehabilitate Manila Bay immediately, “… possibly to start [in the] second week of January.” said Secretary Roy Cimatu during DENR’s final flag ceremony for the year 2018, on Monday, December 17.

“The next war we are going to wage is against Manila Bay. The rehab of Manila Bay is a very tall order not only for the DENR but also the other agencies in the [Supreme Court] mandamus,” Cimatu expressed.

DENR said in a press release that Manila Bay is considered as the most polluted body of water in the Philippines due to “… domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, and leachate from garbage dumps.”

A report by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau in 2017 found that the fecal coliform level in Manila Bay is over 330 million most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters which is a million times higher than the safe level of 100 MPN per 100 ml.

“Coliform refers to the group of enteric bacteria (i.e. living in the intestinal tract. Its presence in a water body is indicative of contamination with fecal matter,” said Deborah V. Simsuangco, Sales Engineer and Pollution Control Officer of BiOWiSH Philippines, Inc., the provider of biocatalyst for bioaugmentation, pollution control, and facilities management.

Simsuangco added that “potable water should have zero coliform. A small number of coliforms in the presence of a food source (i.e. organic pollutants) will promote exponential growth to millions of cells in a few hours. Coliform may lead to diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and other gastro-enteric diseases.”

Meanwhile, Cimatu said that they hope to replicate the strategy used in the Boracay clean-up for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay to bring its coliform level that is fit for swimming, skin diving, and other recreational activities. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year ordered the closure of Boracay for six months during its rehabilitation period. The island re-opened to the public on October 26, 2018.

“We are preparing for an all-out strategy to bring the coliform concentration in Manila Bay to a safe level so that millions of people who reside in the bay region and neighboring areas will enjoy its waters and marine resources without fear of getting sick.” Cimatu explained.

He added that part of their strategy is to ensure that all local government units surrounding Manila Bay– including the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Region 4A or Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon (CALABARZON)– comply with environmental laws.

Cimatu also said that they would tap technologies which treat water pollutants that are directly discharged into the bay from toilets. They would also coordinate with law enforcement agencies to go after violators who would discharge untreated wastewater into Manila Bay.

Finally, a Manila Bay Command Center will be formed to oversee the operations of four field offices that would be set up in 1) Malabon-Navotas, 2) Manila, 3) Pasay-Parañaque, and 4) Las Piñas. The field offices were tasked to ensure that cities and municipalities will carry out and sustain the clean-up activities in Manila Bay.