Think tank Infrawatch PH raises more red flags on Manila Bay project

By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu - Inquirer.net | September 24,2020 - 06:16 AM

MANILA, Philippines — Infrawatch PH, a nongovernment policy think tank, raised more red flags on Tuesday, September 22, 2020, on the government’s Manila Bay rehabilitation project, saying that it lacked an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) and was probably overpriced, with the lone bidder not even offering a discount.

The project — which involved overlaying a part of its shoreline with artificial white sand made of crushed dolomite — drew widespread criticism, with people saying that the material posed a danger to  human health and biodiversity.

Some individuals questioned whether a recent fish kill on the bay was caused by the dolomite. Many others called out authorities for letting huge crowds gather at the site without observing physical distancing in violation of quarantine rules.

On the other hand, President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly defended and praised the project.

But in a statement, Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon called the attention of the President, saying: “Mr. President, the Manila Bay white sand project did not comply with environmental regulations. It has no ECC despite being located in an area with tourist potential and unique historical interest. Projects in these areas require an ECC prior construction under DENR’s regulations.”

“The urgent objective of rehabilitating Manila Bay was not to give the public a nice place to visit, as the President said,” he added. “The objective is to improve water quality, protect biodiversity and ensure sustainable development. As admitted by DENR officials themselves, beach nourishment is not found in any Manila Bay master plan,” he added.

Several government officials, including Vice President Leni Robredo, slammed the project, saying that the money spent on the project could have been better allocated to the government’s COVID-19 response.

Last weekend, curious people flocked to the area when it was opened, overwhelming police officers who tried to implement distancing.

Aside from these issues, Infrawatch PH also claimed that there were indications that the project was overpriced.

“Allowing this project to proceed without disclosing its project costs will undermine the anti-corruption drive of the President,” Ridon noted.

“The President should know the following project details: There was only one bidder; There was a mere 2.04% variance from the approved P398-M budget. The winning bidder did not offer any discount from the bid price despite being the sole bidder. DPWH did not negotiate for a lower project price,” he added.

Despite the issues surrounding the Manila Bay rehabilitation, Duterte praised Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu during his pre-recorded Monday night briefing for fixing the area and making it possible for people to enjoy the famed tourist spot.

Duterte also slammed critics whom he said had done nothing but criticize whatever project his administration implemented.

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