Posted on November 12, 2020
DESPITE the odds, an environment official is confident that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and its private contractor for the controversial Manila Bay Beach Nourishment Project can complete the project on time.
Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on Monday only around 5,000 metric tons or at least one barge of crushed dolomite is needed to complete the project and overlaying once the delivery is made. It can be done in a matter of days.
Leones, the DENR’s Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs and the designated spokesman of Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, expressed hopes that the issues raised by Cebu’s provincial government and Alcoy town will be addressed soon so as to finally lift the ban on dolomite mining that has been causing the project’s delay.
Either that, or the DPWH and its contractors may have to find another source of dolomite or alternative material to complete the P389-million project on time.
“Within the year, the beach nourishment should be completed. We need to increase the dolomite overlay by a meter to complete the project,” Leones said.
The overlaying of the crushed dolomite by the DPWH and its contractor, a joint venture of MAC Builders and DragonHart Construction Enterprise Inc. hit a snag when the Cebu Provincial Government, citing environmental and tax concerns, issued a cease-and-desist order on the private mining firms —Dolomite Mining Corp. (DMC) and Philippine Mining Service Corp. (PMSC)—commissioned to produce the dolomite.
DMC and PMSC are also in trouble with the DENR for allegedly damaging corals caused by the spillover of materials during hauling into the barge.
According to Leones, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is now talking to local officials of Cebu province and Alcoy town.
“There’s a complaint from Alcoy, first and foremost, about authority because it is a national government project, and there are questions about taxes. The complaint was relayed to the DILG and the DILG is now in talks with the Cebu Provincial Government,” he said.
He said once the ban is lifted, it will just be a matter of days to finish the project. “Once it is there, overlaying will be fast and easy,” said Leones.
If negotiations fail, it will be up to the DPWH and its contractors to find other sources of crushed dolomite or alternative dumping materials to suit the Boracay-like beach effect desired by the DENR when it first conceived of the project in 2019.
“It will be the call of the DPWH to find other sources of materials for the project in that case. Our concern is that they complete the project before the end of the year,” Leones said.
“Once we complete the dolomite overlay, we expect the washing in or washing out to be minimized,” he added.
Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia enforced a ban on the extraction of dolomite for use as artificial white sand along Roxas Boulevard in order to prevent a repeat of a disaster such as the 2018 landslide that killed nearly 77 people.
Local officials also said they not give any permit and were not even consulted by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for the mining of dolomite in Alcoy town. It was the MGB that allowed limestone extraction in Naga, Cebu, that resulted in the 2018 landslide.
The Cebu LGU and mining companies are entangled in a legal dispute over a local ordinance taxing the extraction of minerals.
The province wants a fair share of minerals being extracted by the mining companies in the province, particularly in dolomite mining, further complicating the situation.
As to the proposed construction of a breakwater to enhance the protection of the crushed dolomite, the consultation process with stakeholders is already in motion, said Leones.
“A letter was sent to the PRA [Philippine Reclamation Authority] and the Philippine Ports Authority [PPA]. The DPWH wrote the letter and we are waiting for their comments,” said Leones.
Meanwhile, Leones said the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority [MMDA] will be in charge of a separate infrastructure component of the project.
“We have already downloaded funds to the MMDA and they will be implementing the infrastructure projects like the proposed CRs [comfort rooms], souvenir shops and offices,” said Leones.
Leones said two souvenir shops, two offices housing the Mandamus agency and another for the law enforcers will rise along Roxas Boulevard soon.
The DENR is currently reaching out to critics of the project amid questions on the project’s wisdom and timing. While it was planned and allocated a budget before the pandemic, it was implemented even after the declaration of the national public health emergency.
Aside from environmental and health concerns, critics said the P389-million fund for the beach nourishment project could have been channeled to boost the Covid-19 pandemic response or more meaningful rehabilitation projects like mangrove reforestation.
“We are reaching out to various sectors to let them know that the beach nourishment is not just about the dolomite sand. There are other components like mangrove reforestation, flood and erosion control,” Leones said, adding that the project was done in good faith and in compliance with the Supreme Court’s continuing mandamus to rehabilitate the historic bay waters.