Police, local gov’t should have prepared more for Manila Bay ‘white beach’ opening — DILG

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21)— Police and local officials should have implemented additional health and safety protocols ahead of the public viewing of the new “white beach” in Manila Bay, the Interior Department said Monday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año admitted he observed the lack of preparation on the side of the enforcers, as crowds flocked to Roxas Boulevard over the weekend despite concerns about COVID-19 distancing measures.

Sa tingin ko, kulang ‘yung preparations para ma-enforce natin ‘yung minimum health standards,” Año said in an interview with The Source.Sana napaghandaan nang husto.”

“Ang pinaka-immediate kasi dapat na magpe-prepare diyan, ‘yung Philippine National Police, being the frontliners, and the enforcers… the Philippine National Police should have prepared for that,” he added.

[Translation: In my opinion, we lacked preparations to enforce the minimum health standards. We should have prepared better. The PNP, being the frontliners and enforcers, are the ones who should have immediately prepared for that.]

The DILG chief said the PNP should have deployed additional personnel in the area. More barriers should have also been placed around the site, he added.

Aside from the police, Año likewise noted that the Manila City government should have prepared better for the site’s temporary opening. He added he will be talking to the Environment Department to discuss other courses of action or sanctions for parties that need to be held accountable.

The commander of the Ermita Police Station has since been relieved from his post for failure to enforce strict health and security measures to control the crowds.

Dangerous situation

The weekend viewing of the new “white beach” in Manila Bay drew flak from netizens, who expressed concern over the safety of the visiting crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic. Images showed crowds of people standing close to each other while taking photographs of the new white sand.

The Health Department also expressed alarm over the “dangerous” event, saying that minimum health standards should remain a priority due to the threat of virus transmission.

Kailangan lang po mapaalalahanan ang ating mga kababayan na ito po ay isang delikadong sitwasyon dahil maaaring magkaroon ng hawa-hawa ang mga kababayan nating nagpupunta diyan nang hindi masusunod ang minimum health standards,” Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a media forum.

[Translation: We just need to remind the citizens that this is a dangerous situation, because virus transmission is still possible if they don’t practice minimum health standards.]

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said separately that people should still observe social distancing in the area, adding that only up to 50 visitors should be allowed at a time for a maximum 5-minute stay.

"Nananawagan din po kami sa kapulisan na sana ipatupad po ang social distancing," he said during his media briefing. "Sapat na po 'yan (5 minutes) para singhutin ang hangin at magpicture-picture. 'Wag na kayong mag-bathing suit diyan dahil baka lalong matagalan ang mga tao diyan."

[Translation: We appeal to the police to enforce social distancing... The 5 minutes should be enough to smell the air and take pictures. Don't wear bathing suits anymore because people may stay longer.]

A netizen turned up on the beach wearing a red swimsuit on Sunday, which went viral on social media.

Roque said the huge turnout proved that the DENR and the city of Manila made the right decision to take the Manila Bay rehabilitation project a step further by using crushed dolomite boulders as 'white sand' to enhance the area's aesthetics.

Año meanwhile said he expected the new attraction to draw crowds, as he acknowledged that residents of Manila and nearby areas were perhaps “excited” to head out after months of quarantine.

However, he also urged the public to still follow minimum health standards when going out.

The overlaying of the sand with crushed dolomite boulders along an area on the baywalk has ignited public interest and controversy. Environment advocates have strongly opposed the beautification project, noting that it may not only destroy the natural ecosystem in Manila Bay but the source of the dolomite as well.

The DENR earlier argued authorities have studied the project thoroughly before pursuing it.

The Manila Bay “white beach” will again be closed until yearend for the next phase of its development and rehabilitation, Año said.