Manila Bay turning turquoise was a welcome mystery that flooded social media on Thursday morning. While the entire metro kept off the streets since the enhanced community quarantine was implemented on March 16, this natural harbor serving the Port of Manila, has slowly shed its dark, murky waters that has since been known to contain large amounts of fecal matter.
“I never thought that would happen in my lifetime,” environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa, Jr. tells ANCX. He admits he has not seen the photos circulating the Internet, but he says he was blissful when he heard the news.
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Oposa has been hard at work for decades, fighting for policies and laws that would help save the environment and hinder further environmental degradation. In 1999, he filed a case against more than a dozen government agencies, who were amiss in their duties to retain the life of Manila Bay. Around 10 years later, he won the case, and the Supreme Court ordered the defendants to do their part for Manila Bay. In 2009, the activist was given the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
By the time he filed the case, there were around 1 million units of bacteria in Manila bay—the standard is around 100 to 200. While there was a mandate passed by Supreme Court, it stayed on paper and barely turned into real action. It was only sometime in 2018, Oposa says, that clear orders were placed to start cleaning up Manila Bay. That year, Senator Cynthia Villar conducted a hearing, where she pushed the agencies involved to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders.
However, since years have passed, the amount of fecal bacteria in the water had already increased to 1 billion units.
There are two sources of pollution, according to Oposa: sewage and solid waste. To get a cleaner Manila Bay, sewage treatment was necessary, and they had to decrease pollution load, or the amount of stress endured by an ecosystem because of pollution. The barangay officials also had to clean up the canals near Manila Bay.
A long way to go
In a year, Oposa says, the government, headed by Philippine Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu and Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government Eduardo Año, was able to bring down the fecal content to between 70 and 80 percent of the original measurements. It’s a success, but so much more has to be done.
Think of it this way: “Kumuha ka ng batya ng tubig, at buhusan mo nang buhusan ng dumi. Kahit kukunan mo nang kaunting dumi, madumi pa din. Pero pag itigil mo ang lagay ng dumi, lilinis ’yan, lalo pag dumadaloy.”
And such phenomenon could have happened around the same time when Metro Manila lay quiet and still, Oposa reckons. “Look how quickly nature heals itself when left alone by pesky human beings,” he says. “Blue means it’s going back to its beautiful color.”
There is a law that says at least 15 percent of municipal and city waters must be set aside as a marine sanctuary. In most places, this law is not carried out.
If we continue to take care of the supposed biodiversity-rich basin, we could, one, re-establish the place as a beautiful space for recreation, where people could watch the sunset while they breathe in fresh air. Second, the 180,000-hectare water could again be a source of food for many people in the country.
“Buong Metro Manila, at ang palibot—Bataan, Pampanga, Cavite Bulacan—kayang pakainin ng Manila Bay, kung aalagaan lang natin,” Oposa adds, “In two to three months, kung ganiyan pa rin, magsasayawan na ang mga isda diyan.