Environmental Watchdog Calls for Humane and Violence-Free Cleanup of Manila Bay

An environmental watchdog today exhorted national and local government agencies not to overlook the legal entitlements of informal settlers as they strive to enforce a landmark Supreme Court decision to clean up Manila Bay.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a group campaigning against littering and dumping, told authorities to comply with the requirements of the law to prevent the occurrence of violence in affected areas that could endanger the lives of residents and law enforcers alike.

“We join the Urban Poor Associates and other housing rights groups in reminding the authorities to be mindful of their constitutional duty to respect the rights of the urban poor as the Supreme Court ruling on the cleanup of Manila Bay and its tributaries is carried out,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

Urban poor groups last week asked the Supreme Court to direct government agencies to abide by the provisions of R.A. 7279, the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, to avoid unlawful demolition with no consultation and relocation of affected families.

“The need to restore Manila Bay should not put law enforcers and informal settlers at loggerheads as the rehabilitation of the iconic water body is, without doubt, for the common good of the people and the environment,” he said. “A humane, just and violence-free implementation of the SC order is possible if the rule of law will prevail.”

To prevent inhuman eviction and defuse potentially volatile incidents, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the authorities to fully adhere with the mandatory requirements of R.A. 7279, which requires no less than 30-day notice prior to eviction or demolition.

R.A. 7279 also requires local government units, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, to “provide relocation or resettlement sites with basic services and facilities and access to employment and livelihood opportunities sufficient to meet the basic needs of the affected families,” the group pointed out.

“The government, we hope, will take all necessary steps to ensure no forced eviction of waterways dwellers without assured relocation in non-danger areas with employment and livelihood possibilities and access to all essential public services,” Alvarez said.

“As much as possible, the government should prioritize in-city relocation of affected dwellers in public lands to minimize disruption of work, education and vital social networks,” he stated.

“Let public lands be made available to shelter and serve the poor who play indispensable roles in the society, including as recycling workers and entrepreneurs and as partners in the preservation of Manila Bay and adjacent rivers and waterways,” he said.

The cleanup of Manila Bay, according to the group, should be an occasion to affirm society’s solidarity with the urban poor in their struggle for inclusion, dignity and respect, and for their right to live in a clean, healthy and caring environment.

The Supreme Court in December 2008 ordered executive agencies, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Metro Manila Development Authority, to coordinate in the clean-up, restoration, and preservation of the water quality of Manila Bay, “a dirty and slowly dying expanse mainly because of the abject official indifference of people and institutions.”

The Supreme Court then subsequently ordered the concerned agencies to conform by the June 30, 2011 deadline in cleaning up the polluted bay.