Tractors continued piling crushed rocks on Manila Bay to create a white sand patch that will serve as "Boracay" for Metro Manila's quarantine-weary residents. Officials continued to deflect mounting criticism as the Department of Health warned of potential hazards.
The sand is actually crushed dolomite, a form of sedimentary rock. When inhaled, dolomite dust can cause respiratory issues. It can also irritate the eyes and cause an upset stomach, even diarrhea when ingested, Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire said, adding the effects are "minor."
More than a "beach enhancement," the sand is meant to prevent soil erosion. It also helps in flood control, said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque. "Although primarily it is beautification, mayroon din pong dahilan bakit ginawa yan (it was started for a reason)."
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said the project should be investigated to determine if it could harm the environment. He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, among the lead agencies for the initiative, was in the best position to determine that.
"Para matuldukan ang mga agam-agam, dapat siyasaytin ng mabuti kung yan ba ay mapaminsala (To address all apprehensions, the alleged harmful effects should be investigated)," Moreno told Teleradyo.
Moreno said sand that was not as white was laid on the same area as part of a larger clean-up and rehabilitation drive and there were no protests. "Di ko maintindihan na all of a sudden, it became an issue when you're going to rehabilitate the waters of Manila Bay and put in more texture to create a more vibrant Manila Bay."
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the apostolic administrator of the Manila Archdiocese, described the project as "ill-timed," when people are going jobless and hungry during the pandemic. "There are many incorrect things with this project, foremost is that it is not attuned with the current predicament of our nation," he told church-run Radyo Veritas.
Vice President Leni Robredo said the white sand project was "insensitve" at this time. Had the same multi-million peso budget been given the the Department of Education, Sec. Leonor Briones said it would have been spent on distance learning equipment.
Manila Bay and Pasig River in Metro Manila have long been symbols of water pollution in the mega city of some 12 million people, or about a tenth of the population. Past officials have attempted to clean and beautify the waterways to varying success.
The government must first address the root cause of pollution in Manila Bay before giving it an aesthetic makeover using white sand, Rodne Galicha, head of green group Living Laudato Si, told ANC.
“There are a lot of things to do,” such as cleaning up esteros, monitoring factory waste, and surveying the wastes left behind by ships that stop by Manila Bay, he said.