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 Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora