Like festering wounds
Something stinks in many towns and cities in the country, and it’s not just the trash talk of election candidates.
The stench comes from some 600 open dumps scattered in at least 50 towns and cities nationwide, whose officials are facing environmental charges at the Office of the Ombudsman for violations of Republic Act No. 9003. The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act requires the replacement of open dumps with sanitary landfills and material recovery (or recycling) facilities.
Included in the complaint filed on Feb. 10 by the National Solid Waste Management Commission are towns and cities in Bulacan, Pampanga, Cavite and Rizal—provinces that are just outside Metro Manila—as well as barangays in urbanized areas like Cebu, Iloilo and Albay, where a high level of awareness on health and sanitation could reasonably be expected.
The open dumps are like festering wounds: not only unsightly but also hazardous to health. The noxious decaying matter attracts rodents, flies and other disease-bearing insects, and the effluents can leak into rivers and dams and contaminate sources of drinking water. Open dumps are hazardous to the environment as well, as toxins may leach into the soil and disease-carrying organisms can breed there.
On the other hand, sanitary landfills and material recovery facilities allow for proper segregation and recycling of waste. But local officials cite the lack of funds, high cost of land, and huge volume of garbage as among the reasons for their failure to build sanitary landfills. And with towns and provinces being rapidly urbanized, vacant and idle lands have become more attractive as subdivision sites rather than as landfills.
Some local government units receive income of only P70-80 million from taxes or internal revenue allotments (IRA), and allotting P20 million for one landfill can be excessive and a step toward bankruptcy, according to officials. They cite as well the lack of technical know-how on more efficient recycling of the overwhelming volume of garbage generated daily by their barangays.
But the collection and disposal of garbage are a basic service that the government must be able to provide, for health considerations apart from aesthetic or olfactory reasons. Given the limited IRA of small towns and barangays in remote places, can the national government step in to subsidize the facilities needed, perhaps even build them in partnership with the LGUs? The Department of Environment and Natural Resources can help provide green models of garbage recycling and disposal. The Department of Science and Technology can refine or cite best practices and provide the appropriate technology to process garbage into natural fertilizer or convert it into an energy source.
The unending search for renewable energy itself should open doors to crafting creative solutions to this problem. Entering into a public-private partnership scheme with investors could be one way to go around the financial constraints, with private contractors building the landfill and profiting from the recycled materials recovered from it.
“A lot of investors are coming in because they see garbage as a potential money-maker. They intend to convert it into energy,” an official of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has been reported as saying. And with election fever heating up, this is a good time to raise the issue and demand that candidates include it in their respective platforms. How will the next set of local officials address this issue? What will the national government do to help? Will officials, and the candidates hoping to replace them in the May elections, continue to shrug off the country’s lingering image as Garbage Ville (think Smokey Mountain, Payatas and these open dumps)?
Addressing this issue should effectively remind the Canadian government of its responsibility to take back its trash long festering in the Philippines’ backyard.
Finally, a timely response to a very basic and crucial need would be a fitting atonement for, and a hard lesson belatedly learned from, the Payatas tragedy in July 2000, when a mountain of trash collapsed on households living on its flanks, and buried some 300 people under its weight. This is one disaster we must never forget.
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