Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje welcomed a recent resolution by the country’s highest tribunal ordering government agencies to abide by deadlines in cleaning up Manila Bay.

“I personally welcomed the move of the Supreme Court of giving the DENR, as well as the other government agencies, time frames within which we are to implement our respective tasks in cleaning up the Manila Bay,” Paje said during a sail of Manila Bay on Friday (March 11, 2011) with five Supreme Court justices led by Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The other justices who joined the Manila Bay inspection tour were Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr, Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo and Justice Jose P. Perez.

The sail, which began at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) wharf in South Harbor in Manila aboard MV EDSA II, provided the SC justices an ocular assessment of on-going efforts in the historic bay’s rehabilitation and restoration. “The overall state of Manila Bay has deteriorated since the issuance of the mandamus, but there are certain areas that have actually shown a little improvement. The deadlines set by the SC will hopefully lead to the bay’s rehabilitation at the soonest possible time,” Paje said.

The SC on February 15, 2011 rendered a decision based on recommendations by the Manila Bay Advisory Committee (MBAC) led by SC Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr., to set time frames for the agencies to perform their tasks as ordered in a “writ of continuing mandamus” for the DENR and 10 other government agencies to clean up Manila Bay, known worldwide for its beautiful sunset. The mandamus was issued in December 2008 as a result of a complaint filed by “concerned residents of Manila Bay” on the alleged inaction of government to improve the bay’s condition.

During the meeting, Paje directed Manila Bay Coordinating Office (MBCO) Executive Director Noel Gaerlan to submit to the SC the updated Operational Plan for Manila Bay Coastal Strategy (OPMBCS) even before the June 30, 2011 deadline set by the SC. The plan is also to include template forms or lists for an environmental compliance audit as suggested by environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa.

Oposa had presented “practical ways” to clean up the bay, suggesting that issues be divided into three: solid waste management, liquid waste management, and informal settlers. He also proposed that barangays be audited according to their compliance to the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, evaluating them with a “point system” for segregation, collection, existence of materials recovery facilities, dumpsites, and the like.

Earlier during the meeting, MBCO’s Gaerlan presented the results of water quality monitoring for year 2010, indicating the amounts of fecal and total coliform as counted in 14 monitoring stations set up along bathing beaches around the bay. These stations are located in the following bathing areas: two stations each at Noveleta, Tanza and Naic, all in Cavite; Limay and Mariveles in Bataan; and one each at the Navotas Fishport, Luneta Park, Bacoor and Rosario, Cavite.

Of these 14, only six passed the class SB criteria for fecal coliform, namely two stations in Noveleta, two in Tanza, one each in Mariveles and Limay. Meanwhile, nine yielded passing marks for total coliform, namely two in Noveleta, two in Naic, one in Cavite, and all four in Bataan.

Gaerlan also reported that the Parañaque River has reached a critical level of 0.345 mg/L level of dissolved oxygen (DO), far below the ideal of above 5mg/L. DO is the amount of oxygen necessary for marine life to survive.

On the other hand, the Ylangylang River in Cavite registered high amounts of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), which at 89.75 mg/L is way above the required 5mg/L. BOD is the measure of oxygen used by bacteria to decompose organic waste in the higher supply. A high amount of BOD means bacteria robs other aquatic organisms of oxygen supply they need to live.