Political will for the (not so) small stuff
This year, according to the Department of Health, firecracker-related injuries were down by 38 percent. That’s a record, as Filipinos traditionally greet the New Year with a bang, literally — lighting up firecrackers indiscriminately and losing a limb or two in the process.
Some 319 firecracker-related injuries were reported from Dec. 21, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019 — 194 fewer cases than the figure reported in 2018.
Many have attributed the decrease to bad weather that prevailed over the new year, others to the high prices of goods, including those of firecrackers.
But credit where it’s due: The downward trend in firecracker injuries that began last year has to do, in large part, with President Duterte’s injunction against such products, and his insistence on basically regulating them out of existence.
The Philippine National Police said the aggressive information campaign on Executive Order No. 28, signed by the President in June 2017 and which restricts the use of pyrotechnics to designated community fireworks zones as well as the deployment of thousands of policemen to monitor New Year festivities, helped bring down cases of injuries and even gun-firing incidents, making for a less bloody start to the year.
In other words, basic political will did the trick.
Unfortunately, that same political will appeared to be nowhere in sight in another area: the trash problem that epically worsened over the holidays. Metro Manila drowned in garbage, with Rizal Park notably turned into a virtual landfill by Christmas Day revelers.
Authorities, particularly the Manila city government, were perhaps on an extended holiday slumber, because the same thing happened again over the New Year, exacerbated by the rains that transformed many neighborhood streets into filthy open sewers.
There is no lack for laws that should have prevented these from happening.
Republic Act No. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, mandates LGUs to properly segregate and dispose solid waste. More pertinently, the Anti-Littering Law issued by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority prohibits littering, illegal dumping and illegal disposal of garbage; urinating, defecating, spitting in public places; and the improper and unscheduled stacking of garbage outside residences or establishments.
Is it the weak implementation of these laws that empower violators — nowadays, ordinary Filipinos of every stripe, it seems?
Are the fines ranging from P500 to P1,000 for both laws too paltry that no one is actually deterred by them, or is it more a case of nonexistent government?
In the Rizal Park mess, for instance, where were enforcers who, other than providing basic security to the throng in the park, could have admonished those befouling the premises to clean up after themselves?
Also, were enough garbage bins around to make waste disposal easier?
If authorities can effectively implement an executive order that clamps down on the use of firecrackers, what seems to be stopping them from deploying the same level of vigilance and severity to the perennial problem of garbage?
The fix appears to be straightforward: Implement the law more stringently. Fine anyone caught littering without exception. Inform the public of the penalties for such infractions—and follow through on the consequences.
Deputize more law enforcers on the streets to call out any instance of improper waste disposal (as economist and Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito put it, “where there’s no enforcement, all discipline flies out the window”). But also ensure that enough trash bins are in place to allow everyone to do such a basic civic task conveniently.
The sense of impunity permeating the land — the idea that no one gets caught for violating the law, and since everyone is doing it, might as well join in — is not only a feature of national politics; in the plunder of the national coffers, for instance, or the surge in extrajudicial killings that have unaccountably claimed thousands of Filipino lives.
That insidious mindset is seen, first of all, in the small, seemingly niggardly infractions and violations that are taken for granted because they happen every day, everywhere — driving in counterflow, spitting in public, wolf-whistling women, throwing trash around casually.
A change in mindsets and habits among people would surely bring about cleaner, healthier surroundings and better public sanitation.
But, on top of that, good old political will in the form of civic policies and services made effective and palpable — what taxpayers pay their government for — also needs to step up.
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