The island’s stinking solid waste problem

For decades now, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been threatening to close illegally-operating open dumpsites in Catanduanes.

On Sunday, March 21, 2021, a team from the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) will arrive to implement the closure of the open dumpsites in several municipalities, including the capital town of Virac.

Then, according to an EMB official, administrative complaints will be filed against local chief executives of towns found to be still operating the open dumps.

Records show that out of the 114 cities and municipalities in the Bicol region, only six mayors have been charged for violation of Republic Act 9003, notably the illegal operation of open dumpsites.

There is no data on just how many such dumpsites are still operating in the towns but what is likely to happen is that the mayors of Baras, Bato and Virac would be spared from having to answer to the Ombudsman.

All three have reportedly established their respective Temporary Residual Waste Containment Area (TRCA) where segregated waste is supposed to be stored while awaiting construction of a proper sanitary landfill. San Andres, on the other hand, has its municipal eco-park, said to be an alternative to a sanitary landfill as long as waste segregation is practice.

The glaring problem, however, is that there is not one among the 315 barangays in the entire island province that is practicing waste segregation at source.

None. Zero. Zilch.

Only one national agency – the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Catanduanes Engineering District – has a working SWM program, and among the provincial government and the 11 towns, none.

To successfully prosecute negligent local administrations, one only has to document and photograph the unsegregated waste being delivered to the TRWCA to prove that the latter is only a small open dumpsite with a roof.

It bears to be reminded that the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was passed in January 2001, more than 20 years ago, and unfortunately, its provisions have not been treated seriously by LGUs.

Ever since the administration of then Virac Mayor Santos Zafe proposed an P80-million sanitary landfill project that was scuttled by opposition to what was described as an overpriced, fund-raising scheme, his successors managed to convince the people of the need for a landfill.

Except one.

Then Mayor Samuel Laynes, after supervising the closure of the old dumpsite at Magnesia, bought an adjoining lot at nearby Casoocan for the proposed landfill but his untimely defeat meant it would never be established.

The next administration, designated a new garbage disposal chief, promptly expanded its trash collection services to most barangays, including those in rural areas, and converted the proposed landfill into an open dumpsite. The dump is now full after just one-and-a-half years, hence, the DENR-EMB Notice of Violation.

It is also disappointing to note that in that same period, the Municipal Solid Waste Management Council chaired by the honorable mayor was not convened.

It was only when the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office courted the council’s approval of its proposed 2021 SWM Plan that the council was finally called to a meeting.

The Sangguniang Bayan had required the MSWM Council’s approval before giving its nod to the plan that included

There, the BISWMP immediately came under criticism, particularly for the allocation of P17.5 million for consultancy services for the closure of the dumpsite, P3 million for a “rapid” but 10-month long IEC on waste segregation in the barangays, and P3.5 million for the hiring of job-order workers to sort or segregate the waste collected by the MENRO.

Then, whether in jest or in seriousness, the MENRO-in-charge said that if the dumpsite is closed, they would just dump the garbage in the street outside the EMB office.

Nobody laughed.

Certainly, to adherents of ecological SWM, the Virac LGU’s expansion of trash collection services to majority of the 63 barangays is a tacit admission of failure, as the law requires the town only to collect segregated or residual waste.

Hiring untrained “jobbers” with minimal knowledge of how to teach proper waste segregation to ordinary people would be a waste precious resources, as is the hiring of yet more “jobbers” to sort unsegregated waste.

With the capital town expected to generate 89,000 tons of trash this year, and the province projected to have a total of 224,000 tons of garbage, now is the time for the LGUs to get serious about solid waste and buckle down to work.

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