MANILA -- Government plans to start relocating informal settlers in Manila Bay as early as Phase 1 of rehabilitation work.

The plan aims to significantly curb pollution in Manila Bay as soon as possible and open up the opportunity for the estimated 220,000 informal settler-families there to lead better lives elsewhere.

"We're determined to relocate them even during Phase 1 if everything is prepared already and don't have to wait a year to do so," Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu earlier said on the sideline of a press conference on Manila Bay's rehabilitation in Quezon City.

He said Phase 1 will begin Sunday (Jan. 27) and includes preparations for the informal settlers' relocation aside from the cleanup of 'esteros' and the coast of Manila Bay.

Cimatu assured such action, noting that relocating informal settlers is one component of Manila Bay's rehabilitation.

Aside from generally being located in danger areas like banks of waterways, authorities said informal settlements lack facilities like sewage systems so people there dispose feces and other waste directly into the environment.

Such manner of disposal is among causes of environmental degradation in the Manila Bay area.

According to experts, coliform bacteria can be found in human and animal feces. They said coliform-contaminated water has potential to cause disease.

Authorities continue warning about the risk for disease from Manila Bay's waters at present as DENR said the decades-long flow of solid waste and untreated discharges into this water body raised the level of coliform bacteria there to over 330 million most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters.

DENR said the safe coliform level is 100 MPN per 100 milliliters only.

"We'll try to bring down (the) coliform level in Manila Bay to that level," said Cimatu.

Meeting such target means Manila Bay's waters will be fit again for swimming and other contact forms of recreation, he noted.

The target is aligned with Supreme Court's 2008 decision ordering 13 agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay so water there can be fit again for contact recreation.

Those agencies are the environment, agriculture, public works, interior, education, health and budget departments, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Local Water Utilities Administration, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group and the Philippine Ports Authority.

According to Cimatu, the government earlier estimated a PHP42-billion initial funding for Manila Bay's rehabilitation to be undertaken in three phases over a period of about seven years.

"The bulk of that funding will be for relocating informal settlers there," he said.

Planning for their relocation is in progress, he noted.

He said National Housing Authority will help find relocation sites for them.

The government can't relocate all Manila Bay informal settlers at the same time, however, Cimatu clarified.

"We must see who among them will be the first to be relocated," he said.

Road users' tax and borrowings are among funding sources the government is considering to tap for the rehabilitation.

He also said DENR will look into and use part of its funds to help jumpstart cleanup of Manila Bay.

Cimatu reiterated his call for LGUs nationwide to implement solid waste management (SWM).

RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) requires LGUs to implement SWM in their respective areas, he said. SWM "shall refer to 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.

"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," RA 9003 further reads. (PNA)