News / Asia

Pollution Cleanup Progresses in Manila Bay

Children play with sand among garbage washed ashore as their family bathe in the waters of the Manila Bay during Easter Sunday in Manila, Mar. 31, 2013.
Children play with sand among garbage washed ashore as their family bathe in the waters of the Manila Bay during Easter Sunday in Manila, Mar. 31, 2013.
Simone Orendain
Five years after the Philippine Supreme Court ordered authorities to clean up one of Asia’s most polluted bays, government agencies are still struggling to make progress.

It all started with a lawsuit 15 years ago.  An environmental lawyer called Manila Bay a “toilet bowl,” said it wasn't fit for swimming. He said Philippines authorities should be held responsible for fixing it.

The government agencies resisted until the case landed in the supreme court.  The high court ordered them to clean and maintain the bay and make it is safe enough to swim in or else face sanctions.

But five years after the order, the “toilet bowl” status lingers.

The Manila Bay Coordinating Office was created to help comply with the order.  Every quarter, it collects water samples to measure the number of coliform bacteria -- the bay's chief pollutant -- which are found in feces.

Director Noel Gaerlan checks the numbers regularly. On this morning, he looks at the most recent figures, from the third quarter of last year.

"Oh, it's now in the billion level! One billion forty," he said.

That is one-billion parts of microorganisms per 100 milliliters of seawater.  Gaerlan said the acceptable level for swimming is 5,000 parts per 100 milliliters. He said the coliform counts for Manila Bay are usually in the millions, if not billions.

Gaerlan is working on a comprehensive cleanup plan that must be submitted to the court by 2015.  That plan includes relocating tens of thousands of squatters from waterways.  An estimated 11 million residents in metro Manila are without proper sewage infrastructure, which meaning their untreated waste ends up in the bay.

In addition to human and industrial waste, garbage is a major problem.

As part of the interior and local government agency’s efforts to meet the court order, municipalities like Navotas City, just north of Manila,  have been hosting twice-monthly garbage cleanup events for almost two years.

On a recent Saturday, scores of volunteers clear away trash from a small stretch of the 3.5-kilometer Navotas shoreline, which is piled with garbage. 

“There’s still a lot but compared to the previous year, I think we’re going in the right direction.  I think people are more conscious," said Navotas Mayor John Rey Tiangco, who leads the project. "But again, it won’t change in a day, a week or a month.  It has to be a habit.”

Tiangco said his grandfather’s tuna business had to fish further and further away in cleaner waters and now they are based in Papua, New Guinea.

The Navotas shore has hundreds of squatter shanties.  Salvador de la Cruz and his wife Priscilla have lived here for more than 30 years.  Salvador used to shrimp at his doorstep long before plastic bags and fast food utensils proliferated.  Now he travels an hour north to shrimp, but still catches some plastic debris.

Today the couple struggles to keep trash away from their shanty.

They said garbage keeps being dumped there and when they try to stop the dumping, people fight back.

Gaerlan of the Manila Bay Coordinating Office said once the comprehensive plan is in place, cleaning up will be more efficient.

“We still have hope, although we’re looking at a 20-25 year program.  But, if we do this right, implement everything, enforce the environmental laws, no political agenda, then we could do something about it," Gaerlan stated. "So this time, we need to be serious.”

Getting serious about the bay’s cleanup is likely to be expensive. Gaerlan estimates his office needs some $3.7 billion - 10 times the entire budget of the government department his office belongs to.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs