Prioritize COVID-19 woes instead of wasting money on 'white sand' – Pangilinan

MANILA, Philippines – The government should prioritize addressing the increased hunger and joblessness that Filipinos are suffering now during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of dumping toxic white sand on the shores of Manila Bay, Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said Monday.

 Prioritize COVID-19 woes instead of wasting money on 'white sand'

"Hindi katanggap-tanggap na habang nagugutom ang mga kababayan natin, walang hanapbuhay ang mga magulang, at walang kagamitan ang mga anak para sa online classes, ay nagtatapon lang tayo ng pera sa mga proyektong maaaring makasira pa sa kalikasan at sa ating kalusugan," Pangilinan said.

"Pera na, naging buhangin pa," he added.

Pangilinan even listed down several forms of assistance that the government could have provided instead of pushing through with the P397-million Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project that dumped crushed dolomite as artificial white sand along a 500-meter stretch on the shores of Manila Bay.

The list is as follows:
  • 189,000 sacks of rice (P2,100 per 50-kilo sack);
  • WiFi for 55,000 students (P600 per month or P7,200 per year);
  • 26,000 laptops for teachers and students (P15,000 per laptop);
  • Over 130 million face masks (at P3 per face mask);
  • More than P66,000 added in the salaries of 6,000 nurses and medical technicians for one year (over P5,500 added per month) or;
  • 300,000 test kits (UP Test kit at P1,320 each)

Maritime expert and UP Law professor Jay Batongbacal said in an Inquirer interview that filing a petition for a writ of kalikasan is possible given some reports from US contractors that the dolomite is a potential carcinogen and a cause for respiratory ailments.

Texas distributor and builder Lehigh Hanson Inc. warned that dolomite could cause skin and eye irritation, as well as cancer and damage to the lungs through prolonged or repeated exposure, according to its safety data report in 2012.

Lhoist North America, also warned that dolomite contains crystalline silica, classified as a potential carcinogen when inhaled by humans, in its safety data report in 2018.

"The last thing we want in the middle of this pandemic is causing more risks to the health and safety of our people. Bugbog na nga ang healthcare system dahil sa COVID-19 at korapsyon sa PhilHealth, dadagdagan pa natin," the senator said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also confirmed that according to medical studies, dolomite dust, the synthetic white sand being used for the Manila Bay rehabilitation project, could cause "adverse" respiratory issues if inhaled.

University of the Philippines Resilience Institute executive director Mahar Lagmay said that storms and high tide could wash away the sand dumped around Manila Bay.

"Our government must prioritize addressing the plight of our people who are already grappling with difficulties brought by the pandemic. Wala tayong karapatang sabihing wala na tayong pera kung may mga proyektong nagsusulputan na sinasayang ang pera ng bayan," said Pangilinan.

— The Summit Express

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