The Manila Bay view, especially that of its golden sunset has been touted as one of the best views one can get in the metropolis, regardless if one believes or not the claim that the Manila Bay view has the “best sunset views in the world.”
And while there are a lot of good views of Manila Bay that one can check out, perhaps the most iconic of them all would be the view along Roxas Boulevard from the United States Embassy all the way to the Manila Yacht Club and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex because of the unobstructed view of the water and the sun as it sets behind the waters in bright red and orange colors.
At one point though, there was the thought that this view would be threatened in the midst of the land reclamation activities in the 1980s and 1990s south of the city in the Pasay-Parañaque corridor which already cost the beach that used to be in that area. Given the accelerated reclamation development, many feared it would be a matter of time before Roxas Boulevard and the City of Manila would lose this view. It must be noted also that the land the US embassy is standing on and the CCP Complex were reclaimed lands themselves so a hypothetical reclaimed area in between would seem like a no-brainer.
But as far as the Manila City Government is concerned, such reclamation was not and will not happen. So in 1993, the Manila City Council passed City Ordinance 7777 which banned any form of reclamation along Manila Bay from the US Embassy to the CCP Complex. Thus the famed sunset view in this area is more or less secured, despite the reclamation projects that have been proposed near the protected area since.
While the bay is now safe from reclamation activities, it was not safe from urban decay and especially the pollution brought about by the people in the area and the waste transported from the tributary rivers like Pasig, Tullahan, San Juan, among others. So when Lito Atienza assumed the post of Manila city mayor, he spearheaded efforts to revitalize the Manila’s bayside, especially along Roxas Boulevard, not only by cleaning up the area but also creating a tourist attraction that the city never had before.
The Original Baywalk
Work was completed in 2002, when Atienza unveiled the Manila Baywalk, a 1.5-kilometer park and recreational space paved by colorful interlocked stone slabs, widened walkways and bike lanes, lined with trees and lamp posts which…we’ll get to them in a bit.
Throughout the stretch of the Baywalk, one can find various monuments depicting prominent personalities in their element if they were there. There was the iconic monument of beloved Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson reading a newspaper and sitting on a bench by the bay and Liberal Party stalwarts Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier looking at the water (FYI, Atienza was a Liberal before he parted ways with them in the late 2000s) The only oddity there perhaps is the statue of Philippine Star founder and longtime editor Max Soliven who seems to be doing his own thing rather than admire the view.
In its first iteration, the Manila Baywalk also hosted a number of commercial establishments. These range from alfresco cafes to restaurant-bars. Their presence was a double-edged sword. While they made the area more popular among locals and tourists alike, they were also a source of frustration especially for residents of condos across the boulevard who had to contend with the noise these restaurant-bars make.
And of course, how can one forget the “abstract” and “contemporary” lamp posts that were installed along the stretch of the Baywalk. At the very least, it drew a mixed reaction among people ranging from “artistic” to “funky” to “kitschy” to “gaudy.” Regardless of the views, they were, at the very least, unique and, in their own weird way, serve as landmarks not only of Manila Baywalk but of the greater City of Manila as a whole.
When Alfredo Lim became city mayor in 2007 after defeating Atienza’s anointed successor, who happens to be Atienza’s son Ali, Lim proceeded to get rid of the restaurant-bars and other commercial establishments in the baywalk. While the removal was intended to bring some semblance of order and transform it into a good old-fashioned park, it did have the unintended consequence of bringing the Manila Baywalk into a state of decline of sorts. The tourists and the locals are still going there but there was a marked decline in foot traffic. As a result, the area was not as well-maintained as before though not in a state of total neglect.
The Mandamus Order
With all the efforts done and undone on the Manila Baywalk, there was one thing that was not yet addressed, the environmental state of Manila Bay itself. It was this situation that a group petitioned the Supreme Court of the Philippines for the government agencies to address this matter. Which the Supreme Court did in a historic manner.
In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a writ of continuing mandamus (G.R. 171947-48) directed at the 13 national government bodies overseeing Manila Bay, including the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to “clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to SB level to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation.”
Before we go any further, you might ask what is this continuing mandamus. A continuing mandamus is defined as “a writ issued by a court in an environmental case directing any agency or instrumentality of the government or officer thereof to perform an act or series of acts decreed by final judgment which shall remain effective until judgment is fully satisfied.”
However, despite the mandamus order, there were no high-level activities that reflected massive efforts to clean up Manila Bay. For the next 11 years, there were the regular cleanup activities being made in the bay and tributaries, which in the grand scheme of things did little to stem the tide of pollution in the bay. This would change in 2018.
The Dolomite Beach Rises
In 2019, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources finally got serious in cleaning Manila Bay. With the DENR under the helm of Secretary Roy Cimatu, it led the aforementioned 13 agencies in kickstarting the widescale efforts to clean up Manila Bay. At the onset, the effects of the drive made an impact. The efforts actually were instrumental in the temporary closure of Manila Zoo that year because its water treatment facilities were not up to standards, which in turn led to the zoo’s revitalization.
But perhaps the biggest visible impact of this campaign was to come. Later that year, the DENR unveiled plans to revitalize the Manila Baywalk are (albeit indirectly) by the addition of a new facility: a manmade beach stretching the length of the Baywalk to be created from crushed dolomite from Alcoy, Cebu.
According to the DENR, the dolomite beach would serve not only as a tourist attraction but also as a defensive structure of sorts to combat flooding and erosion and vouched for the dolomite not harming ecosystem of Manila Bay. However, other sectors, especially a number of environmental groups had a different opinion saying that dolomite is, at the very least, not effective in improving the quality of the water in Manila Bay.
Ultimately, it was the public that would have the last say on the matter. So when the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach had its soft opening in July 2020, it immediately became a popular destination in the city. And that’s taking into consideration that it was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when few dared to go outdoors and crowds were more controlled.
These days, the beach is filled with more people now. And if you’re not into crowds still, recommending the beach is a tough sell. Though there are more “secluded” parts if you walk far down the crushed dolomite.
Still there is a lot more work to be done in the area. For one, there is still a portion of the beach that is yet to be developed, which will have a replica of Fort Drum which is an island fortress near Corregidor. There is also the matter of repairing the monuments located throughout the Baywalk as many of them are in a state of disrepair.
Regardless of the debates around it, the popularity of Manila Baywalk then and now with the Dolomite Beach there now is a testament to the people’s sense of affinity to the sea. Here’s hoping this appreciation for Manila Bay will be a contributing factor in the continuing revitalization of the bay and the rivers that flow to it.
And before I forget, do check my video which is a walking tour of the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach which you can watch below:
Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia, Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, De La Salle University, and My Manila