Funds for Manila Bay's 'white sand' project could have fed 80,000 hungry families - Robredo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) — The ₱389 million fund reportedly allocated for the government initiative to overlay 'white sand' on the shores of Manila Bay could have instead gone to over 80,000 poor families who were left hungry due to the pandemic, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday.

During her weekly radio show, Robredo called the move of the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) "insensitive," for focusing on the beautification of the area at the height of the pandemic.

"Napaka-insensitive na gagawin mo yan sa height ng pandemic na ang daming nagugutom. Ang daming naghihirap, gagawin mo yung pag-beautify," she said, noting that the government had even reasoned earlier on that it was running out of funds for COVID-19 response.

[Translation: It's really insensitive for you to do it at the height of the pandemic when so many people are getting hungry. A lot of people are losing money, but what you're doing i to beautify.]

Cebu provincial board members had also sought a probe into the extraction of dolomite rocks to overlay the "white sand" in Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard for aesthetics without their knowledge.

According to Robredo, if the money was instead used to give ₱5,000 worth of subsidy for the poorest households who were badly hit by the crisis, the extent of its purpose would have gone a long way.

"Ano ba naman yung i-reassess yung budget?...bakit ito yung ipa-prioritize? (How difficult can it get to simply reassess the budget?...why would they prioritize this?)

She also slammed the recent remark of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that the "white sand" beach in Manila Bay could help improve Filipinos' public health and distract them from the crisis.

"Hindi ko alam kung matatawa ako o ano," she said."Ang makaka-ease nito, tapusin na natin ang pandemya."

[Translation: I don't know if I find this funny or not, but whay will surely ease their mental struggles is for the pandemic to be over.]

In an interview with CNN Philippines last week, DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda insisted that the Manila Bay project was done with "engineering intervention."

He also clarified that the funding was not spent solely on the dolomite rocks.