Monday, February 7, 2011

DENR beefs up Manila Bay office

In an effort to clean up the historic bay famous for its glorious sunset, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has issued a directive “establishing an institutional mechanism” that includes redefining the functions and structure of its coordinating office for Manila Bay.

Under DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2011-01 entitled “Strengthening the Manila Bay Coordinating Office (MBCO),” the said office is now under the direct supervision of the environment secretary. Prior to the order, the MBCO was a part of the DENR’s River Basin Control Office (RBCO) which is tasked to oversee the integrated planning, management, rehabilitation and development of all the country’s river basins.

“The objective of this organizational reform is to ensure that appropriate focus will be given to the delivery of obligations of the DENR to clean up Manila Bay, as ordered by the Supreme Court (SC),” Paje said. He designated Noel V. Gaerlan to head the new MBCO.

The country’s highest tribunal had in December 2008 issued a “continuing mandamus” directing various government agencies to clean up Manila Bay, a result of a complaint filed by concerned residents of Manila Bay on the alleged inaction of the government to improve the environmental condition of what is considered one of the best natural harbors in Southeast Asia.

The SC ruling also designated the DENR as the primary government agency responsible for the enforcement and implementation of an Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy (OPMBCS). This plan was drawn after consultations with the different stakeholders of the Manila Bay coastal and watershed areas in the Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and National Capital Region.

“DAO 2011-01 is one of the strategies under the operational plan for Manila Bay that allows us to formulate and implement policies and institutional mechanisms for the Bay’s sustainable development. It reflects a more cohesive collaboration among all partners involved, from both the national and local levels,” said Paje.

Under the DAO, the MBCO has coordinative functions among all offices and agencies involved in the Bay’s rehabilitation, restoration and conservation. It also leads in the planning, monitoring, and review of all related activities and their progress, as well as in the preparation of reports required by the DENR and the Supreme Court.

With monitoring results showing that the Bay’s waters are still highly polluted despite government and the private sectors’ initial efforts to clean the Bay and its tributaries, the DENR is keen on intensifying the mobilization of civil society and identifying all groups conducting clean-up activities, whether on their own initiative or as mandated by law.

“We must continue to maximize our resources – human and otherwise – so that our implementation and monitoring activities are closer to the ground,” said Paje. This is one reason, he explained, why the DAO also designates the three DENR regional executive directors who have jurisdiction over the Bay as regional coordinators and heads of their own reconstituted Manila Bay Site Coordinating/Management Office. Further, the directors and heads of all concerned DENR offices, bureaus and attached agencies will also act in their capacities as focal persons in the implementation of the OPMBCS.

The OPMBCS actually details the actions identified to address risks and challenges – whether on the environment or on surrounding communities – to attain set goals and priorities, particularly in the improvement of water quality.

As the agency mandated to install, operate and maintain waste facilities to rid the bay of toxic and hazardous substance, the DENR, through its Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), has set up nine monitoring sections in different sections of the bay to monitor parameters such as dissolved oxygen, pH level, oil and grease, and nutrients.

Initial reports for 2010 showed that the Bay’s levels of pH, oil and grease, and ammonia passed criteria for Class SC waters, fit for recreational activities such as boating. In 2009, only four coliform monitoring stations (one each in Noveleta and Tanza, Cavite; and two in Mariveles, Bataan) yielded passing marks for Class SB criteria for total coliform count.

In its ruling, the SC had ordered for the upgraded reclassification of the Bay’s water quality to Class SB to make its waters safe for swimming, skin-diving and other forms of contact recreation.


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