Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta led a group that inspected the dolomite sand beach in Manila Bay last Wednesday, along with Associate Justices Rodil Zalameda, Mario Lopez, Edardo delos Santos, and Ricardo Rosario.
There had been charges that the dolomite beach posed a danger to public health. There were also reports that the recent heavy rains were washing the white bits of dolomite out into the bay. But that was not why the Supreme Court group was there.
They were there because in 2008, the Supreme Court issued a decision calling for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay in a case filed by the Concerned Residents of Manila Bay. After a year of hearings, the Supreme Court directed 13 government agencies led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clean up the bay. They were given 10 years to do it.
Chief Justice Peralta is the only remaining member of the Supreme Court that issued that 2008 decision, the others having retired in the last 18 years. Under SC rules, he said, whoever is still with the court, who had participated in the 2008 decision, becomes the person in charge of the case. “I am now in charge of the case,” the chief justice said. That explains why the group that went to visit the dolomite beach last Wednesday was led by the chief justice himself.
Prior to the inspection, Chief Justice Peralta and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu led a meeting at a nearby hotel where the DENR reported on the activities undertaken by various agencies to clean up Manila Bay, including the removal of garbage and wastes from the river systems flowing into the Pasig River, then to Manila Bay.
After the beach inspection, Chief Justice Peralta said he was informed by an engineer that the fecal coliform level in Manila Bay was down to 49 MPN (most probable number) per 100 millimeters, lower than the required 100 to 200 MPN.
In his initial report after getting President Duterte’s order to clean up the bay, Secretary Cimatu said the coliform levels had reached as high as 330 MPN, which was why swimming was forbidden in the bay. Eight water quality monitoring stations were set up along the shore of Metro Manila and as of January 28, Cimatu said, bacterial levels at the Rajah Soliman outfall, one of the eight monitoring stations, had improved to 35 MPN. This would be in line with the 49 MPN reported by an engineer to Chief Justice Peralta.
All this must now be presented formally to the court. There is need for an official report on the pollution levels in MPN figures.
The public wants to know if it is now safe to go swimming in Manila Bay. The last time the Department of Health issued a statement on the matter, it advised the public against water-borne gastrointestinal diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and skin diseases that may be acquired from polluted bodies of water. Until its waters are declared safe for recreational swimming, it is best to avoid taking a dip in the bay.