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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid