DENR: Commercial areas, residences pollute bacteria-infested Manila Bay

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Children and adults alike beat the summer heat through swimming at this portion of Manila Bay — something that the state disaster bureau is not too happy about owing to the threats to health that swimming in polluted waters poses. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 11) — The Environment Department said commercial establishments and residences are to blame for the bacteria-infested Manila Bay, which is home to billions of harmful bacteria – way above the level considered safe.

During the inspection on Friday, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu visited shanties in Parañaque. He saw rows of houses without septic tanks, with human wastes going into the creek that flows to Parañaque River, then to Manila Bay.

To rehabilitate the bay, DENR is prioritizing relocating 233,000 informal settlers near bodies of water connected to Manila Bay.

"Dito hindi na ata nakakarating high tide kaya hindi nahihila dumi. stagnate na dito. Almost 1 billion quality ng coliform dito," Cimatu said.

Coliform is a group of harmful bacteria from human and animal feces. Parts of Manila Bay are home to a whopping 1.3 billion most probable number (mpn) of coliform for every 100 ml; the safe level is below 200.

Aside from residential areas, Cimatu also inspected the outfall of Estero de San Antonio Abad in Manila City. He found that the 60-year-old Manila Zoo does not have a sewage treatment plant. Zoo officials clarified they have a septic tank and only the animals' murky bathing water is being discharged to the drainage, which leads to the estero and then to the bay.

"Ang kanilang mga dumi, ginagawa naming fertilizer," Manila Zoo Public Recreation Department Atty. Jas Garcia said.

Manila Zoo management said the local government already promised to help them construct a sewage treatment plant.

Manila Bay will undergo a full rehabilitation starting January 27, but authorities said that cleaning Laguna Lake is important to ensure the success of the rehabilitation project.

When it rains, the bay and lake water circulate. Like the Manila Bay, the Laguna Lake is also polluted. Of the 4,000 industrial establishments surrounding Laguna Lake, 2,000 have pending cases for failing to achieve the standard. Residents of over 60 cities and municipalities also dump their liquid waste on the lake.

"Major source (of pollution is) domestic. Marami sa residential areas unsewered. Ang treatment is septic tank, which is hindi efficient para i-treat ang pollutants," Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) Environmental Regulations Manager Engr. Emeterio Hernandez said.

With liquid waste as the main problem, Manila Water and Maynilad have been ordered to connect all clients to sewage system. But Cimatu said sewage is not the be all and end all solution.

Along with DPWH and LLDA, DENR will extract the silted material below Laguna Lake early part of this year. Local governments also were asked to help in cleaning the water from 17 rivers in Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and Region 3, which discharge water to the bay.