Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu wants the leaders of barangays surrounding Manila Bay to serve as “elite special forces” in the ongoing effort to bring the heavily polluted bay back to its former glory.

“The barangay leaders and members who are here today could be considered special forces in this endeavor,” Cimatu said during Monday’s dialogue between officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and over 300 barangay captains in Metro Manila in connection with the Manila Bay rehabilitation.

Cimatu said the government is relying on these barangay leaders whose support and cooperation are vital in ensuring the success of the rehabilitation dubbed as “Battle for Manila Bay,” given their proximity to nine critical rivers that need to be cleaned as part of the restoration effort.

“As much as you are the ones nearest to the rivers or the battle areas, you are also the ones closest to the people who are possible enemies or violators,” Cimatu said. “Influence them to stop their bad practices of dumping garbage anywhere, and ask them to join you as volunteers in your cleaning campaign drive.”

The former military chief added: “Your mission is special. Kaya isa kayo sa mga elite forces ng Manila Bay rehabilitation. Consider yourselves as the first line of defense.”

The dialogue aimed to remind the barangay executives of their role in the rehabilitation effort, as well as their responsibility in cleaning up rivers that empty into Manila Bay.

It was attended by leaders of barangays surrounding the river systems of Pasig-Marikina-San Juan, Muntinlupa-Parañaque-Las Piñas-Zapote, and Malabon-Tullahan-Tenejeros, as well as barangay executives from Pasay City and Navotas.

Cimatu said barangay leaders should be “vigilant” regarding issues concerning the rivers within their areas of jurisdiction.

He noted that Manila Bay has become a “pollution hotspot” in southern part of East Asia, making it a “potential health hazard to our people, a threat to the nation’s food security, and a tremendous impact to the country’s biodiversity.”

Despite this, Cimatu believed the Manila Bay rehabilitation was not an impossible mission if everyone will take part in the undertaking. “We can restore back the once clean and beautiful bay if we all believe that we can do it.”

“We are not alone. We have the mandamus agencies and different stakeholders on our side: the national and local government agencies, the government and non-government institutions, and the civil society,” he added.

Last January 27, the DENR launched the three-phase “Battle for Manila Bay” project where over 10,000 people joined a massive cleanup activity on Roxas Boulevard in Manila and other parts of the Manilay Bay region.

More than a month since the launch, the DENR and its attached agency, Laguna Lake Development Authority, have already issued a total of 263 notices of violation and 119 cease and desist orders to establishments in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and the Calabarzon that have violated the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 and other pertinent environmental laws. ###