SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
Members of the House Committee on Appropriations chaired by Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City) took to task the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for its failure to address the worsening water quality of Manila Bay and warned of a further reduced budget.
During the agency’s presentation of its proposed 2019 budget before the appropriations panel, Rep. Estrellita Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija) asked DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu about their plan on rehabilitating Manila Bay.
“Sa December, magiging 10th year anniversary na yung mandamus on decision of the Supreme Court about the cleaning up of Manila Bay. Ano pong plano ninyo dito?” Suansing asked.
The DENR is one of those government agencies ordered by the Supreme Court to rehabilitate Manila Bay.
Cimatu replied there is a need to put up an environmental office in Metro Manila that will be responsible for enforcing environmental laws.
“We have all the laws as far as pollution is concerned—Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Solid Waste Management Act—but we are poor in environmental enforcement,” Cimatu said.
Likewise, Cimatu said it is also important to address the problem of informal settlers living near Manila Bay and those living along tributaries of Laguna Lake.
He said the toilet plumbing of these people living near and along the said areas go straight to the Laguna Lake and which are then discharged toward Manila Bay.
“The fecal coliform level in Manila Bay is very unhealthy caused by wastes of people living in the shores of Cavite and Parañaque,” Cimatu explained.
Suansing expressed her disappointment over the DENR’s budget presentation which included a short video clip on the agency’s accomplishment regarding the rehabilitation of Boracay island.
Boracay was closed down for a six-month rehabilitation upon the instructions of President Duterte who described the island as a “cesspool” because of the high level of coliform in the water surrounding Boracay.
Suansing, chairperson of the Committee on Ecology, told Cimatu her panel had undertaken a motu proprio investigation on other resorts in connection with the Clean Water Act.
She said Congress could have helped him address the Manila Bay water pollution problem had he attended even just one of the numerous meetings of the ecology panel.
“The committee tackled the issues on Manila Bay and Laguna Lake. We could have helped you because we have identified the problems affecting Manila Bay,” Suansing said.
She said Congress can help DENR by amending laws like granting the department police powers.
“Because as of now, kahit ho cancelled yung ECC (environmental compliance certificate), kahit walang ECC tuloy tuloy ang pag operate ng mga resorts kahit walang solid waste facility, katulad sa nangyari sa Boracay,” Suansing remarked.
Suansing said she will make a motion to reduce the budget of the DENR to P100 because she was disappointed with the accomplishments of the DENR.
Rep. Jose Atienza Jr. (Party-list, BUHAY) said the DENR’s presentation has not included any report regarding the cleaning up of Laguna de Bay, Manila Bay and the Pasig River.
Atienza said the presentation talks about administrative matters which should not even be reported to Congress.
“What we would like to hear are your accomplishments in delivering a cleaner Manila Bay, cleaner Laguna de Bay, cleaner waters all over the country and the kind of budget that you would recur for next year,” Atienza commented.
He said that all the accomplishments of the DENR would not mean anything if the waters of Manila Bay remain degraded and to some degree almost dead poisoned by garbage and human waste.
Atienza said the solution to the problem of Manila Bay is to require the two water concessionaires – Maynilad and Manila Water – to provide water treatment facilities.
“Have these water concessionaires followed the provisions of their contracts? Are there waste water facilities for Metro Manila to help introduce life once again to Manila Bay?” he asked.
Atienza said water consumers have been paying 20 percent of their water bill for rural and environmental protection fees for 21 years now while the water companies have yet to do their share of providing waste water treatment facilities for Metro Manila.
Cimatu explained the two water companies have undertaken the waste water treatment facilities and will be completed in 2037.
Atienza expressed disappointment with Cimatu’s reply of just accepting that position of the contractors.
“Kailangan pwersahin ninyo yan kung hindi itigil ang paniningil ng 20 percent of our share and save the consumers some money from this,” he said.
Atienza said the DENR should use its political will to resolve the issue. “May magagawa kayo. Itigil lahat ng mga operations diyan at dagdagan ang penalty. Hindi pwede na tayo ay defensive. Kailangan active and progressive ang gobyerno.”
He said that if the DENR can’t show a report that they’re doing something definite, active and aggressive to correct this particular abuse of weakness of some people in government, he will convince the President to do something drastic.
“Or I will move really for a P1.00 budget practically abolishing the DENR because of its inability to protect the interest of the people,” Atienza said.
The committee terminated the briefing on the DENR’s proposed 2019 budget of P24.171 billion which is lower than the 2018 budget of P24.911 billion. /Vicki Palomar