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Squalor

opinion / Editorial
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Editorial

Squalor

/ 12:12 AM January 08, 2017

The first week of 2017 has just passed and prominent among the reports is the issue of pollution. The revelry held to welcome the new year resulted in not only the usual maiming, even killing, of revelers and sundry innocents but also the pileup of the detritus of firecrackers and other accompaniments of merrymaking. Name it—food scraps, discarded food containers, juice packs and water bottles, etc., which revelers couldn’t be bothered to dispose of properly, as though the street sweepers owed them. The public parks were reportedly a fine mess during the holidays, proving yet again that many Filipinos do not deserve this beloved season.

And the air we breathed? Dramatic photographs show Metro Manila choked by air pollution on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The New Year’s Eve photographs in particular were dangerously beautiful, indicating that even in our happiest moments, we are threatened by what we discard or use up.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that the air pollution during New Year’s Eve was worse than in the previous year despite government efforts to discourage the use of firecrackers and fireworks. The DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau set up stations throughout the metropolis to monitor the dirt in the air from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1. The results? The air in Metro Manila during the 24-hour period was found to be “extremely dangerous,” which meant it was “no longer deemed safe to go outside without wearing a face mask.”

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The stations were designed to measure particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, the cause of hazardous smog. Teresita Peralta of the DENR-EMB’s Air Quality Management section reported the highest such quantity at the Timog-Edsa station in Quezon City, measuring 560 micrograms per normal cubic meter (ug/Ncm). Compare that to the level considered safe for one’s health—50 ug/Ncm—and cringe.

In terms of tangible, graspable dirt, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority reported that 15 truckloads of trash were collected from popular holiday areas Rizal Park, Baclaran and Balintawak from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1. Much of the litter constituted empty plastic bottles, food containers and leftovers. Ironically, the 15 truckloads of waste are actually an improvement over last year, when the MMDA collected 20 truckloads from those same places.

So here we are, stewing in squalor. But for an even more frightening sign of deterioration and decay, consider the dying Laguna de Bay and the region around it that generates almost 60 percent of GDP—the “ecological heart” of the country, as Laguna Lake Development Authority general manager Nereus Acosta poetically describes it. In a 3-part special report, the Inquirer’s Maricar Cinco discusses how uncontrolled commercial fishing over the last 50 years has led to the Philippines’ largest lake becoming polluted and silted, effectively choking it and killing the industries that rely on it.

All these warning signs should reasonably shock Filipinos into collective action. We can start with small individual steps—sweeping our yards, segregating household trash, and disposing of litter properly, which means picking up after ourselves and our pets (dog poop on the sidewalk is a particular bane of the urban resident’s existence).

As it is, another monster garbage day looms, with the Feast of the Black Nazarene and traslacion scheduled tomorrow. Last year the millions-strong procession generated a mind-blowing 35 truckloads, or 367 tons, of garbage gathered along the 7-kilometer traslacion route (that’s 157 tons more than was collected in 2015).

Will we finally clean up our act? Let’s hope the effort begins with the Black Nazarene procession, pointedly referred to as “trash-lacion.” A ceremony marked by the sacred and profane, it bids well to again break records in garbage pollution—unless, by some miracle, we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

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TAGS: Air pollution, black Nazarene, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, environment, New Year’s Eve, pollution, squalor, Traslacion
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