MANILA -- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will further intensify the crackdown on pollution in Manila Bay starting next year to help improve its quality and save the water body from further environmental degradation as the Supreme Court (SC) ordered.

DENR is scheduled to meet next month with stakeholders to discuss measures to reduce the volume of indiscriminately disposed garbage in areas along Manila Bay including untreated discharges from informal settlements that eventually flow into and raise the level of coliform bacteria there.

"The objective is to bring down coliform level in Manila Bay," DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu said Thursday (Dec. 20) at a press conference in Quezon City.

He highlighted urgency for action, noting coliform level in Manila Bay already surged to over 300 million most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100 ml).

"Manila Bay is unfit for swimming at present," he said.

According to DENR, the safe coliform level is 100 mpn/100ml only.

Cimatu targets lowering the coliform level in Manila Bay to an even safer level of less than 100 mpn/100 ml so its water can be truly fit again for swimming and other forms of recreation.

Coliform bacteria are commonly used as indicator of water pollution, noted experts.

They link pollution in Manila Bay mainly to land-based human activities including discharge of municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes aside from land runoff.

In 2008, the SC ordered DENR and other agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay so waters there can be fit for contact recreation.

The planned crackdown against pollution in Manila Bay is in accordance with such order.

Manila Bay is the premier international gateway to Metro Manila, the country’s political, economic and social center.

Along the bay are coastal areas in Metro Manila as well as in Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan and Cavite provinces.

DENR said seven major rivers intersect Manila Bay's 190 km-long coastline and those are major sources of pollution in Manila Bay.

Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said DENR is coordinating with the Department of the Interior and Local Government regarding informal settlers in areas bordering Manila Bay, so government can relocate them eventually.

LGUs must no longer tolerate further proliferation of informal settlements, he said.

"We'll file charges against local officials for environmental problems stemming from such settlements in their areas," he said at the press conference's side.

Pollution is among those problems since informal settlers' dwellings generally lack sanitary facilities and discharge feces and other wastes directly into the environment, DENR said.

Republic Act (RA) 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) tasks LGUs nationwide as front liners in implementing solid waste management (SWM) across respective areas of jurisdiction.

Solid waste "shall refer to all discarded household, commercial waste, non-hazardous institutional and industrial waste, street sweepings, construction debris, agricultural waste, and other non-hazardous/non-toxic solid waste," reads RA 9003.

SWM is "the discipline associated with the control of generation, storage, collection, transfer and transport, processing, and disposal of solid wastes in a manner that is in accord with the best principles of public health, economics, engineering, conservation, aesthetics, and other environmental considerations, and that is also responsive to public attitudes," RA 9003 reads further.

Measures to reduce garbage dumping and informal settlements' untreated discharges, including possible use of technologies like silt curtains for containing waste, will form part of the rehabilitation plan for Manila Bay.

Cimatu noted that DENR aims using some of its funds to help rehabilitate Manila Bay.

"We have fines paid for violation of environmental laws, so we'll try to find out if these can be used for the rehabilitation," he said.

He expects the plan's implementation to result in a cleaner, less coliform-tainted Manila Bay by Christmas next year.

"I'm very optimistic this can be done so I hope everyone will join us in this endeavor and hand over Manila Bay to the next generation," he added. (PNA)