I have always believed that the Filipinos are good people. Despite the cynicism of some and our own penchant for “self-flagellation,”, the Filipino people have demonstrated that they have the passion and the will to do what is good for the country. We are a nation of patriots.
This was in full display last January 27, 2019, when around 5,000 volunteers joined the solidarity walk to Manila Bay pledging to volunteer hours and days for the eventual clean-up of the famous landmark.
There was a time when weekend getaways for Filipino families consisted of going to Luneta Park and strolling along Roxas Boulevard to see the magnificent Manila Bay and its world-famous sunset. You would see families enjoying the view and the cool breeze, lovers oblivious to the crowd around them, and children running around. At that time, it was not unusual to see people take a dip in the cold waters of the bay.
But we failed to take care of Manila Bay. Over the years, the bay has experienced a deterioration of its water quality, coastal erosion and siltation, overexploitation of fishery resources, and loss of biodiversity.
As my wife Senator Cynthia Villar pointed out, even when the Supreme Court intervened in 2008 by issuing an order that compelled the government to perform its duties to clean Manila Bay, the situation has just gotten worse. Cynthia noted that the bay is now five times dirtier compared to its condition in 2008 when the High Court ordered 13 national agencies to restore it to a state “fit for swimming and other forms of recreation.”
Just like many of our national problems, rehabilitating Manila Bay is not a job for the government alone. It requires the participation of citizens. In the first place, people are the main contributor to the problem so it makes sense that they should be part of the solution.
According to the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), most of the pollution is from “land-based human activities, including the discharge of municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastes, land runoff and atmospheric deposition.” More importantly, they noted that “about 21 percent of the organic pollution load to Manila Bay come from the Pasig River basin, with 70 percent of this load derived from households”.
Cleaning up Manila Bay requires the partnership of government, the private sector, and more importantly, our people. The government needs to show political will in implementing environmental regulations and laws. In particular, it should regulate reclamation projects that tend to contribute to the problem. The private sector, aside from supporting initiatives to rehabilitate the bay, should also ensure that they do not contribute to the sewerage issues relating to the pollution of the bay.
More significantly, the people need to do their part. We need to get rid of bad habits in terms of solid waste management. People need to be educated in order to sustain the rehabilitation efforts. And more people should be allowed to volunteer in the clean-up drive.
Volunteerism is ideal in solving community problems because they have unadulterated motivations—save the environment. Moreover, volunteerism encourages unity and a common purpose. It develops values such as solidarity, reciprocity, and mutual trust. At a time when people argue about everything on social media, we need something to demonstrate that we have something in common.
I hope the spirit of volunteerism that was displayed in the Manila Bay clean-up drive will be sustained. I hope that very soon families will be able to swim in the bay again.