DENR ‘white sand’ haul alarms Cebu officials | Inquirer News

DENR ‘white sand’ haul alarms Cebu officials

CEBU CITY — Officials of Cebu province are looking into the reported extraction of dolomite rocks that were pulverized into “white sand” to cover and beautify a small part of the Manila Bay shoreline under a much-criticized P349-million rehabilitation project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“We were caught by surprise. This is alarming,” Provincial Board Member John Ismael Borgonia told reporters on Friday, a day after Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda disclosed, without providing further details, that the sand being used for the “beach nourishment” of Manila Bay was actually crushed rocks sourced from Cebu.

Borgonia, who chairs the provincial board’s committee on environment conservation and natural resources, said that “even if the project was undertaken by the national government, the local government of Cebu should have been informed. They [national government] should have asked for the necessary permit and consent.”


“It’s like Cebu was robbed,’’ he added. “We didn’t even have an idea about it.”


He said he had requested the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office to investigate where exactly in Cebu the dolomite rocks were extracted.

“This is a classic example of getting something from our resources but the province did not have anything in return,” Borgonia said.

DPWH matter

Earth movers and other heavy equipment started covering a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay with the sand on Thursday.

News of the operation, as announced by the DENR, immediately set off a firestorm of criticism from netizens and environmentalists who questioned the costing and sustainability of the project, as well as its timing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critics also dismissed the so-called whitewashing of the Manila Bay coastline near Manila’s Baywalk strip along Roxas Boulevard as a mere cosmetic job following a major cleanup that removed tons of trash from the shores last year.

Antiporda earlier said the sourcing of the dolomite rocks from Cebu was a matter handled by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).


Defending the project in an ANC interview on Friday, the DENR official said engineering interventions like geotubes had been installed to protect the new layer of sand from being washed away during storm surges or high tide.

He said the new layer of sand would be a meter thick and cover a total area of “1 hectare.”

No permit

Edgar Tabacon, director of the DPWH-Central Visayas (Region 7) office, did not respond to phone calls on Friday when the Inquirer sought his comment.

Another official from Tabocon’s office, who declined to be named for lack of clearance to speak to the media, said they could not give any statement since the project was undertaken by the DPWH central office.

Joel Garganera, a councilor of Cebu City, which is administratively independent from the provincial government, said he had sought clarification from DENR-7 Director Paquito Melicor Jr., who told him that no permit had been issued in the province to extract and transport dolomite for the Manila Bay project.

“DENR-7 wants to know where the information [came from] that the dolomite [was] from Cebu. They are actually conducting an investigation if indeed these dolomites were taken from Cebu,” said Garganera, who heads the council’s environment committee.

NEW LAYER Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda says geotubes have been installed in the Manila Bay area being covered with white sand to protect it from being washed away during storm surges or high tide. —RICHARD A. REYES

‘Waste of money’

Also on Friday, maritime experts weighing in on the Manila Bay project warned about its risks.

In an interview with the Inquirer, Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea of the University of the Philippines, said the new layer of sand would require structures to protect it from erosion.

The dumping of foreign material, he added, would create turbidity or affect the relative clarity of the waters on Manila Bay, which in turn would have a short-term effect on its sensitive marine life.

He likened the project to “painting a dirty wall with a water soluble paint—superficial and a waste of money.”

It also remains to be seen how the dolomite would interact with other wastes and metals that had contaminated the waters, he noted.

Marine biologist Benjamin Vallejo said sand sourced from quarrying would likely have an effect ”especially [on] the substantial mollusk biodiversity” found on the bay’s sand flats.

‘Washed out’

“Cleaning up the bay involves a holistic approach which includes reducing sewage outfalls by sewage treatment, restoring habitats like mangroves and putting a hold on reclamation projects,” said Vallejo, who has been studying the Manila Bay ecosystem for years.

Disaster scientist Mahar Lagmay pointed out that sand deposited on beaches always shifts and is eventually transported elsewhere.

“If you put white sand there, chances are during storms and high tide when the waves are high because of strong winds, all this sand will be washed out and transported,” he said on ANC. “It’s really going to be expensive if you want to continuously replenish the white sand because it is foreign material and the beach should really be gray just like that kind of sand that is common in that area.”

In many countries, Lagmay said, beach nourishment is an expensive effort aimed at protecting high-end properties near coastlines.

This is not the case with regard to Manila Bay, he said, citing Antiporda’s explanation that the project was carried out for beautification.

Isko: ‘We are happy’

In an online press briefing late Friday afternoon, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso expressed appreciation for the project, saying “we are happy that the DENR went beyond [its call] to make the city a more vibrant Manila. We agree [with] it. We support DENR.”

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“DENR, on its own, knows it better to protect our environment. I don’t think a person in his right mind—in particular, an agency [tasked] to protect the environment—will pollute the environment. This is my presumption,” the mayor said. — (with reports from Nikka G. Valenzuela, Julie M. Aurelio and Jodee A. Agoncillo)

TAGS: DENR, environment, Manila Bay, white sand

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