Friday, September 2, 2011

Mina showed us

No, they can’t pull out the “politicking” card and cry foul when it comes to the Irisan tragedy. That’s how they got elected themselves, by politicizing the issue during the campaign.

But really, what led to the “garbage slide” that claimed lives and property at the height of Typhoon Mina last week?

In January, 2001, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 was enacted into law which mandated the “State to adopt a systematic, comprehensive and ecological solid waste management program…” The 44-page document signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also directed local government units, in our case the City Government of Baguio, to come up with a plan that “shall include an implementation schedule which shows that within five (5) years after the effectivity of this Act; the LGU shall divert at least 25% of all solid waste from waste disposal facilities through re-use, recycling, and composting activities and other resource recovery activities…”

Five years. So between 2001 and 2006, what was done to implement that law?

Since the majority of finger pointers point their fingers at the executive when it comes to this particular issue, the men holding the reins of the local government then were as follows:

The Hon. Bernardo M. Vergara – Baguioi’s mayor from the year the law was enacted to the year that the Irisian open dumpsite should have been converted into a controlled dumpsite for Section 37 of the law, headlined “Prohibition Against the Use of Open Dumps for Solid Waste” states that “No open dumps shall be established and operated, nor any practice or disposal of solid waste by any person, including LGUs, which constitutes the use of open dumps for solid waste, be allowed after the effectivity of this Act: Provided, That within three (3) years after the effectivity of this Act, every LGU shall convert its open dumps into controlled dumps…” the sections ends with, “no controlled dumps shall be allowed five (5) years following effectivity of this Act.”

The Hon. Braulio Yaranon – our mayor until he was suspended in 2006, or the year that the Irisan dumpsite should have been totally closed, and that a Sanitary Landfill should have already been established in its place.

The Hon. Peter Rey Bautista – the chief executive when the whole thing blew up in our faces and right under our noses in 2008, or two years since the deadline set by the law.

That year, Baguio was in the headlines because of the mounting uncollected garbage in its streets – uncollected because we had nowhere to dump our trash because the Irisan dumpsite was finally closed. Why did Bautista close it? Because it would by then already illegal to operate an open dumpsite, which is what the Irisan dumpsite was. At that time, at the height of the crisis, then Mayor Bautista, instead of sweeping things under the rug and making excuses like any old trapo would, bit the bullet and apologized to the people and said that “he alone was responsible for it and was willing to go to jail for the actions he took to solve it” (Vincent Cabreza, Philippine Daily Inquirer 08/07/2008).

With the Irisan dumpsite closed and with no other option but to bring our garbage somewhere else, Bautista had the city’s waste hauled to faraway Tarlac, the nearest garbage facility willing to accept our garbage. It cost a lot of money, obviously, but considering the risks to life and property posed by the continued operation of the Irisan dumpsite then, add to that the health risks brought about by uncollected garbage left rotting in our streets, what other real choice did the city have then?

The dumpsite's operation was limited then to being a staging area before hauling the garbage to Tarlac - effectively turning it into a controlled dumpsite, something that was supposed to have been done three years since the law was enacted, or back in 2004.

The City Government then began focusing its attention on finding a suitable site for a Sanitary Landfill, but that proved to be not a walk in the park despite the availabliity of funds for its acquisition and construction. The law specified that a Sanitary Landfill must satisfy the following criteria:

(a) The site selected must be consistent with the overall land use plan of the LGU;
(b) The site must be accessible from major roadways or thoroughfares;
(c) The site should have an adequate quantity of earth cover material that is easily handled and compacted;
(d) The site must be chosen with regard for the sensitivities of the community's residents;
(e) The site must be located in an area where the landfill's operation will not detrimentally affect environmentally sensitive resources such as aquifer, groundwater reservoir or watershed area;
(f) The site should be large enough to accommodate the community's wastes for a period of five (5) years during which people must internalize the value of environmentally sound and sustainable solid waste disposal;
(g) The site chosen should facilitate developing a landfill that will satisfy budgetary constraints, including site development, operation for many years, closure, post-closure care and possible remediation costs;
(h) Operating plans must include provisions for coordinating with recycling and resource recovery projects; and
(i) Designation of a separate containment area for household hazardous wastes.

The highlighted part above proved to be one of the several major hurdles in the establishment of a Sanitary Landfill. While there were suitable sites that were found to have passed most of the criteria, mostly in neighboring municipalities, residents objected to their town being the recipient of Baguio's garbage.

By the time elections came last year, this was where we stood:

1. Irisan dumpsite closed.
2. We didn't have a proper gabage disposal facility as prescribed by the law.
3. We continued to produce garbage.
4. The nearest facility willing to accept our garbage was in Capas, Tarlac.

To lessen what needed to be hauled to Tarlac, the City Government asked, nay begged, residents to segregate their garbage. When this didn't work, a no-segregation, no-collection policy was enforced. It still didnt' work, to a lot of people, segregating their garbage was such a big hassle, required too much extra effort. So instead of exerting extra efforts to segregate their trash, they started finding ways to dispose of these by dumping these in collection areas when barangay officials aren't looking, burning them (including plastics and other toxic materials) in their backyards, etc. The mountains of uncollected, unsegregated garbage continued to pile up.

In 2009, the year before the elections, politicians capitalized on the garbage issue to perpetuate their respective candidacies. Every one of them had a “permanent solution” to the crisis. In a report by Artemio Dumlao for the The Philippine Star (November 08, 2009), he quoted then Congressman and now Mayor Domogan as saying that “(there) seems no action to implement the permanent solution,” apparently referring to Bautista’s administration.

Photo of Irisan Dumpsite before (at left) and after Bautista closed it and began its rehabilitation in 2010 (at right).

He won the mayoral seat last year, together with The Hon. Bernardo M. Vergara who won as congressman and who promised to spend much of his pork barrel on solving the city’s garbage woes.

Then just three months ago, in May of this year, according to a report, Mayor Domogan announced that the city’s garbage problem has been solved (“Mayor solves Baguio garbage woes” by Dexter See, May 16, 2011 The government has purchased Environmental Recycling System (ERS) machines which should take care of the city’s biodegradable waste, and the rest of our garbage (residual, non-biodegradable waste) will be taken care of by the suppliers of those machines, Protech Machinery Corporation.

Which makes one wonder – if the ERS machines only took care of biodegradable waste, where were they taking the rest of the city’s garbage?

Last August 27, 2011, Typhoon Mina showed us where. See, Typhoon Mina did not just trigger a tragic catastrophe that claimed lives and property, it uncovered a rotten political system, a system that kills.

During last year’s elections, flyers were anonymously printed and distributed ridiculing then Mayor Bautista which had an illustration of a mountain of rotting garbage with the caption, “Basura, basura, matutumba!” How ironic.

But at the end of the day, forget about politics, the ball is in our, the citizens’, hands. The city government has provided for the handling of our bio-degradable waste. That’s good. Now as for the rest of our garbage - reduce, reuse, recycle. A lot of the trash that made it to Irisan dumpsite, and unfortunately down towards Asin Road, can instead be recycled, if only we would exert a little extra effort – and SEGREGATE!

We can point fingers all we want, rant on Facebook all we want, but really, what have we done to help solve the problem?

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