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DENR enlists top businessmen for river rehabilitation projects

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worker cleanup San Juan River
Worker clean up San Juan River in Kalentong, Mandaluyong last April 19, 2018. -- PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is in discussions with businessmen Ramon S. Ang and Lucio C. Tan, Sr. for possible cooperation in river clean-ups around Metro Manila to support the government’s Manila Bay rehabilitation program.

“We are still doing technical consultations in which they expressed the intention [of] cleaning up the major rivers,” Sherwin S. Rigor, DENR Undersecretary, told reporters in Malate on Wednesday.

“The rivers will be inspected,” Mr. Rigor said.

“For the project with Lucio Tan, we are going to choose,” Mr. Rigor said, and noted that Mr. Ang, President and CEO of San Miguel Corp., will be assigned to clean up the Tullahan River.

The river traverses northern Quezon City, Valenzuela and Malabon, emptying into Manila Bay.

Mr. Rigor said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum held in Cafe Adriatico that the DENR has not yet appointed contractors for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay since the budget department has not allocated funds for the project.

According to Mr. Rigor, the DENR is relying on government equipment for now to facilitate the cleanup.

“We do not have any contractors yet. We are relying on our own,” Mr. Rigor said.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said that the department will fence off a segment of the Manila Bay shore to discourage the use of the swimming areas and beachfront.

“We are about to close the swimming area. We did not anticipate the influx of people. We are closing the beachfront,” Mr. Cimatu said in the same briefing.

“Baywalk will still be open,” he said, referring to the bay shoreline on Roxas Boulevard between the US Embassy and the Manila Yacht Club, where the proposed fence will go up. “How can we clean if there are people swimming there?,” Mr. Cimatu said.

According to Mr. Cimatu, the fecal coliform content of Manila Bay has fallen significantly to 7.5 million most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (ml) from 330 million MPN per 100 ml at the start of the cleanup, though the water is still unsafe for swimming.

The fence is expected to be built in the next three days.

Meanwhile, a sewage treatment plant will be built beside the Manila Yacht Club to clean the water from three esteros in Manila before draining into Manila Bay, Mr. Cimatu said.

Mr. Cimatu added that there are no approved reclamation projects yet in the area and every project, before being approved, needs to secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the DENR.

“The process of applying for reclamation projects in Manila Bay must go through the DENR for the ECC. They should be compliant with environmental laws (such as the) Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Solid Waste Management Act,” Mr. Cimatu said.

“As of now there is no approval for any reclamation. Nothing has been approved,” he added.

Mr. Cimatu is also confident that the rehabilitation project will go ahead, despite calls from some legislators to postpone the program and decide what to do with the informal settlers.

“I can’t see a good project being discontinued,” Mr. Cimatu said.

According to Mr. Cimatu, the DENR is requesting a P45 billion budget to effect the transfer of informal settlers. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio