In this photo, Mayor Lucilo Bayron (2nd from right) can be seen throwing a mudball into Puerto Princesa Bay on a Saturday morning. He is joined by John Vincent Gastanes, founder of Project Zacchaeu Eko-kolek, councilors Nesario Awat, Jonjie Rodriguez, Raine Bayron, and city administrator Arnel Pedrosa. (Photo from Puerto Princesa City Information Office)

The city government has launched the “Save the Puerto Princesa Bays” program in the coastal barangay of Mandaragat, signaling the start of a long-term and ambitious goal to relocate approximately 5,500 informal settler families.

These families are primarily responsible for the degradation of the aquatic ecosystem in the area, Mayor Lucilo Bayron explained, which is further exacerbated by the unprocessed wastewater flowing from 17 outfalls that directly discharge into the sea.

Mayor Bayron provided an estimate that when considering an average family size, approximately 25,000 people in Puerto Princesa Bay alone engage in daily practices of excreting waste and urine, alongside raising animals such as pigs, chickens, and dogs.

It’s important to recognize, he explained, that the excrement and urine from these activities contain harmful substances that contaminate the water. This pollution leads to a depletion of oxygen levels and disrupts the delicate ecological balance crucial for the thriving of marine life in the bay.

Mayor Lucilo Bayron in Barangay Mandaragat with Vice Mayor Maria Nancy Socrates, City ENRO chief Atty. Carlo Gomez, Councilor Bong Dilig, and other officials of the city government. (Photo from Puerto Princesa City Information Office)

During his address to the residents and barangay officials of Mandaragat in the early hours of the program’s launch on July 15, Mayor Bayron emphasized the significance of coastal dwellers refraining from polluting the city bay, which is the primary focus of the save the bays initiative, as they await their relocation.

He informed the audience that the city government has already acquired two land properties in Irawan and San Jose barangays for their eventual move.

The sizeable land plots will see the construction of affordable and comfortable housing units with the assistance of the Pambansang Pabahay Program under the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Irawan, covering an expansive area of 21 hectares, will feature residential or apartment buildings capable of accommodating 7,680 families, while the two-hectare San Jose property will also have the same to accommodate 2,496 families who currently reside in informal settlements.

“Kailangan dalawa ang solution natin—kailangan maayos natin ang paninirahan sa coastal area natin at maayos natin yong pagdaloy ng wastewater papunta sa ating karagatan,” he said, admitting this will be a long journey, which can’t be done in two-three years time.

“Ang nakikita ko kung paano natin masa-save yan, ang long-term solution, i-relocate natin yong mga coastal dwellers. Bakit? Kasi they are living in a danger zone. Hindi lang danger zone—it is an area na hindi mapapasakanila talaga kasi salvage zone,” he added.

After the coastal area is vacated, it will be reclaimed to prevent informal settlers from squatting again.

He stated that the focus of the save the bays” initiative will initially be on Puerto Princesa Bay, and later extend to Honda and Ulugan bays, as well as the smaller Oyster, Binunsalian, and Turtle bays.

Bayron led the ceremonial mudball dispersal at the launch of the bay conservation efforts, along with Vice Mayor Maria Nancy Socrates, Mandaragat Barangay Captain Gerry Abad, members of the City Council, uniformed personnel, and other volunteers.

The mudballs used contained a mixture of effective microorganisms (EM), which consist of beneficial bacteria. These microorganisms play a crucial role in regulating the levels of ammonia and waterborne pollutants present in the environment.

He said that by introducing mudballs infused with EM into the water, the microorganisms are released, aiding in the breakdown of pollutants and maintaining a healthier ecological balance. He stressed that this will help to improve water quality, mitigating the negative impacts of ammonia and other pollutants on the aquatic ecosystem.

Atty. Jeremias Asis of the Puerto Princesa Water Reclamation and Learning Center said residents can help in efforts to save the city bay by adhering to environmental laws, avoiding direct discharge to the waters, have their septic tanks serviced, and investing in new treatment plants.

“Greater teamwork is needed to preserve the bays of Puerto Princesa for future generations. Hindi lang Puerto Princesa Bay, sana lahat ng itong bodies of water ninyo, magkaroon ng tulungan para maproteksyonan siya,” he said.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.