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‘Swimmable’ Manila Bay still years away, says Atienza

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It may take “several years” before the public can enjoy swimming safely in the waters of Manila Bay, at the rate households in the National Capital Region are being connected to a sewage system, Deputy Speaker and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said on Sunday.

“Sadly, we expect the bay’s fecal coliform levels to stay extremely elevated in the years ahead, considering that some 85 percent or 13.9 million of the water-served population in Metro Manila are still not hooked up to a sewage network,” Atienza said.

“The greater part of Metro Manila’s toilet waste will continue to get discharged into stormwater drains and flow untreated into channels, including the Pasig River, that all empty out into the bay every day,” Atienza said.

The fecal coliform level of Class B coastal waters deemed safe for recreational activities such as swimming should not exceed 200 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (ml), according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

However, recent water samples taken by the DENR from 21 monitoring stations around Manila Bay showed an average fecal coliform level of 4.87 million MPN/100ml.

The very high fecal coliform level indicates severe contamination that exposes swimmers to waterborne pathogenic diseases, including viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid fever and all sorts of infections, Atienza pointed out.

“The DENR should exert more pressure on the private water concessionaires. They have to expeditiously fulfill their obligations under the Clean Water Act of 2004,” Atienza said.

“Under the law, they are supposed to attach all households to a sewage system, and then treat all the collected wastewater. They can either reuse the cleaned water, or recycle it back into the natural environment,” Atienza, former three-term mayor of Manila, said.

Both Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. have projected that they will need another 16 years, or until 2037, to connect all homes to a sewage network.

The Supreme Court in 2019 penalized the two concessionaires and the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System with P1.84 billion in combined fines due to their failure to connect households to a sewage system and their lack of wastewater treatment facilities.

The three parties were ordered to pay a rolling penalty of P322,102 per day until they achieve 100 percent sewage connection.

The tribunal upheld the penalty originally imposed by Atienza when he was Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources in 2009, after the concessionaires failed to comply with the Clean Water Act’s five-year deadline for them to link up their customers to a sewage system.

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