Instead of listening to science, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources insists on snow-jobbing the people with public relations stonewalling. Supreme Court justices led by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta join Secretary Roy Cimatu and other DENR Officials during an inspection of the Manila Bay sands, despite the inclement weather. What in heaven’s name has the Supreme Court to do with dolomites? Is the environment secretary anticipating any court cases following Undersecretary Benny Antiporda’s cavalier handling of the beach nourishment project in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic?

(Part 1: Hubris kills a policy debate.)

Still under a seeming shell-shock because critics says P389 million would have been better spent by a cash-strapped Duterte administration for Covid-19 priorities instead of dolomites for cosmetics for Manila Bay, a visibly mad Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda recently attacked scientists of the University of the Philippines accusing them of being “bayaran” or paid hacks “who have no right to criticize the government’s white sand project.

In return, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said “the onion-skinned and blubbering DENR Undersecretary could serve the nation better if he will resign from his post and spare us from his cheap shots.”

In an official press statement, Gia Glarino, research coordinator of Kalikasan PNE said Antiporda’s remarks were not only “reckless, demeaning and uncalled for”. Another source said it public office is public trust, and the undersecretary was “utterly unprofessional and a total reversal of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 91% approval rating.”

Glarino said Antiporda should always be open to the suggestion of stake holders, especially coming from the sound and scientific minds of our scientists and marine experts.  

This was after the UP Institute of Biology and the Marine Science Institute, both highly respected in their own areas of disciplines, offered science-based services and advice to the DENR in rehabilitating Manila Bay. 

“Kalikasan PNE backs the suggestion of the UP scientists to the government. They must instead restore mangrove forests and prioritize the improvement of Manila Bay’s water quality. It would be sound and appropriate for DENR to center its rehabilitation efforts towards reviving the ecological health of Manila Bay instead of mere beautification,” added Glarino.

Since September, Kalikasan PNE has asserted that the DENR’s dolomite beautification project poses negative impacts on the bay’s still thriving fisheries and to ecological and public health. 

Using the official government radio-TV press briefing, the Laging Handa (“Always Ready”) a fuming Antiporda said without offering proof that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has paid the Institute of Biology PHP500 million (US$10.86 million) in consultancy fees and because of that, he expects them to work for free.

That made the undersecretary’s statement an official policy of the Duterte government.

Antiporda said in both English and Filipino. “To those commenting [on the dolomite project], they should talk to the DENR first before they comment. Because based on what I have studied we have paid them half a billion since 2016 up to this year only for consultation. There’s no infrastructure, nothing. We paid half a billion to that UP. From what I know, UP should offer their services for free.”

The DENR official also called out UP scientists for saying that dumping crushed dolomite on Manila Bay was “not the best way” to spend taxpayers’ money because it was detrimental to the area’s biodiversity.

The scientists have told the DENR that they should have planted mangroves on the shore instead but Antiporda said that this was not possible because the mangroves “will destroy the landscape…and at the same time, mangroves will not survive in this area.”

Continuing with his diatribe on-the-air, the undersecretary accused the scientists of being “bayaran” (paid hacks), a slur that Duterte supporters often hurl at government critics whom they allege accept bribes.

Antiporda continued lashing “Why are you asking for payment from the government after you were educated by taxpayer’s money? After you became a scholar of the people? You sucked the blood of the people from all the money that you have taken? Now that we’re doing something good [and you criticize us] we have to pay you? No way. You do not have the right to criticize us because you are accepting payments. That’s the only thing I will say about UP. I will keep repeating it, you are accepting money.”

Critics argue that the taxes used to fund the Manila Bay white sand project, estimated at PHP389 million (US$8 million), should have been used for the Philippines’ coronavirus response instead. However, government officials, including the presidential spokesman and that of the Department of Interior and Local Governments, counterclaim that the rehabilitation of the polluted area has been planned months before the pandemic hit, and the money cannot be used for other projects.

Sources asserted this was a totally lie because the Bayanihan 1 Act empowered the President to move government funds as he pleased if it were to control the Covid 19 pandemic. Besides, they say that nature itself has spoken in that just a few weeks the strong waves and the monsoon rains have started to wash up the dolomites.

In angry retort, Antiporda denied that dolomites are disappearing, arguing that they were just underneath the black sand that waves have brought to the shore. “There were about two to three inches of black sand on top of the crushed dolomite,” he said.

Scientists respond with sobriety

Meanwhile, the head of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) believes Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda may have misunderstood the service the institute has been rendering for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Malamang po, hindi familiar si Usec sa kontrata ng UP. Sa tingin, niya consultancy ito. Ang katotohanan ay service contract po ito”, said Dr. Laura David, director of the UP-MSI in a recent tele-radio interview. (Most likely, the undersecretary is not familiar with the contract of UP. He thinks this is consultancy. But it is in fact a contract service.)

Ibig sabihin noon, karamihan ng pera na naipadala ng DENR ay para sa pananaliksik, field work, laboratory work na kinailangan naming gawin para matugunan ang mga katanungan ng DENR.” (It means, the fund provided by DENR is for research, field work, and laboratory work that we need to do to be able to respond to the questions of DENR.)

The UP-MSI had said a few weeks ago that the use of crushed dolomite will not help solve the environmental problems in Manila Bay. The UP Institute of Biology also said recently it was willing to assist the DENR in a “science-based rehabilitation program for Manila Bay,” where they said mangroves should be planted. 

Rejecting the suggestion, Antiporda said during Wednesday’s Laging Handa briefing, “”Hindi ho magandang tingnan and at the same time, hindi ho mabubuhay sa lugar na ito iyong mangrove.” (It will not be pleasant to look at and at the same time, it will not survive there.)

Saying that the DENR has paid about P500 million to UP experts since 2016 for consultation, Antiporda said the agency will accept help from experts “as long as it is for free.”

David, however clarified that for the last 10 years, UP-MSI was paid P364 million as part of “10 contract services.”

But she added that those did not cover the beautification project in Manila Bay. She maintained that scientific research is very important in such projects for safety and efficient spending.

“Kahit na anong ginagawang paglalagay ng lupa sa tabing-dagat, dapat maagap ang pananaliksik dahil puwedeng may maling puwesto, puwedeng maling materyal na ginagamit. Ang nangyayari, kapag ganoon, nagiging magastos ang pag-a-upkeep ng isang lugar,” she explained. (In any reclamation activity in shorelines, there should be proper research because there may be wrong placement, or wrong use of materials. If these happen, maintaining the area can be costly.)

In the case of the Manila Bay beatification project, David said she understands the agency’s effort to landscape the area. But still, the kind of artificial sand used does not fit there, she said.

“Ang puwesto na pinili na paglagyan ng dolomite or extension ng beach, isa po itong lugar na kung saan nagsasalpukan ang dalawang current o dalawang daloy ng tubig sa Manila Bay,” explained David. (The place where they chose to put dolomite is one where two different currents merge.)

“‘Pag ganito pong lugar, mas madali siyang masira… ‘Pag pumunta kayo sa bawat beach, mare-realize n’yo na iba’t ibang klaseng sand ang nakalagay. Kagaya ng Boracay sand, pino; Batanes beach, mabato. Kasi po, bawat isang lugar, iba ang lakas ng alon na humahampas. Kapag mali ang sand na inilagay, madali siyang ma-erode.

Sayang lang ang investment kapag ganoon.” (In that kind of place, any project can be easily destroyed… If you go to every beach, you will realize that the sand differs. In Boracay, it’s fine. In Batanes, it’s rocky. It is because each place has different sea current. So, if you put the wrong kind of sand, that may just be eroded. You just waste your investment.)

David said the upkeep for the Manila Bay artificial sand will be high since the shores at that location are typically hit by strong waves.

Aftermath of Typhoon Pedring just nine years ago in exactly the same location Antiporda was building a dolomite beachwalk. The strong waves and flood it generated took back even the giant rocks cemented to riprap the breakwater.

“Magastos po iyang location pong iyan… Typically po na ang ganito pong type ng projects, matagal na po ang limang taon bago ma-wash out. Kung minsan, isang bagyo lang bago siya ma-wash out na,” she warned. (That’s a costly location… With this type of project, 5 years is too long before a washout could happen. Sometimes, even with just one typhoon, it may already be washed out.)

I will conclude this discussion on Saturday, expressing my own prognosis using granular detail submitted for public interest by the UP scientists.

(To be continued)

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