To Manila Bay ‘white sand’ critics: Gov’t projects continue even during Covid-19 pandemic—Panelo

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic should not bring Philippine government projects to a halt, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on September 9, 2020.

Manila Bay beach nourishment project. (PNA file photo)

Panelo defended the controversial Manila Bay “white sand” project telling critics who questioned its timing that it has been on the pipeline and has already been allotted with funds a year before the health crisis started.

He said the government has allocated enough funds for the health crisis through the soon-to-be signed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 bill.

Meron na ngang budget dati dun, meron din tayong budget sa Covid-19 (There has been a budget allocated for the project, there’s also a budget for Covid-19,” he said in an interview over PTV-4.

Amid calls to prioritize the Covid-19 response, Panelo said concerned agencies are already doing their part in relation to their respective mandates.

He cited the Department of Health, which in charge of testing efforts, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which in charge of the distribution of cash aid among others.

Yung iba, siyempre kung ano ang trabaho nila ‘yun yung gagampanan nila (The other agencies, whatever their job is, that’s what they’ll perform),” he said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the agency in charge of the white sand project, is in charge of assuring the sustainability of the country’s natural resources.

Panelo, however, pointed out that Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu was also assigned to oversee the Covid-19 response in Cebu.

Sa madaling sabi, mag-mu-multitasking tayo (In other words, we have to multitask),” he said.

The public, he said, will have to live with Covid-19 by following minimum health and safety protocols until a vaccine is made available.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s there. Hindi pupuwedeng tayong kadenahan nito, maging sagabal sa ating ginagawa sa araw-araw. Hindi pupuwede yung takot mangibabaw sa’tin na hindi na tayo makagalaw (It should not chain us, it should not hinder our daily activities. We cannot allow fear to prevent us from doing anything),” he said.

On Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the white sand project will prevent soil erosion and flooding.

Itong ginawa po nila, ito po ay tinatawag na beach enhancement, so hindi lang po ito pagpapaganda. Itong beach enhancement pong ito ay para po maiwasan ang soil erosion at para makatulong din po sa flood control (What they’re doing is called beach enhancement, so it’s not just beautification. This beach enhancement is also to prevent soil erosion and help flood control),” he said in a virtual presser.

Lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the project since the sand is made from dolomite rocks transported from Cebu which could pose public health risks and environmental problems.

Cimatu said that dolomite is safe to use and that several resorts in Cebu have been using the same artificial sand for their beaches. (Azer Parrocha, PNA)