HORRENDOUS traffic, dwindling water supply, and lack of space for garbage disposal are common problems in our highly urbanized cities. Cebu City is no exception. Garbage in particular has been hogging the headlines.
Recently, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and his wife, City Councilor Margot, were the subjects of an administrative complaint filed with the Office of the President by an opposition barangay captain. The complaint castigated the Osmeñas for reopening a closed landfill and for continuing to have the city’s garbage disposed of there despite the landfill’s not being compliant with environmental laws.
In June 2016, Mrs. Osmeña, who was then the acting mayor as the mayor, vice mayor and majority of the city councilors were serving suspension orders, cancelled the agreement between the City of Cebu and Parañaque-based Asian Energy Systems Corp. for the dumping of 500 tons of garbage in the latter’s private landfill in Concolacion town. Cebu City’s 20-year-old sanitary landfill in Brgy. Inayawan had been ordered closed in 2015 by then Mayor Michael Rama, and the city started dumping its garbage in Consolacion, paying a P700 per ton tipping fee. Cebu City and Consolacion are separated by Mandaue City.
The truth is that garbage collection moved from bad to worse during Mayor Rama’s term. The barangay dump trucks frequently broke down when making the trip to and from Consolacion. Because of the traffic, the trucks rarely made more than one trip in a day. The result was that garbage began piling up, especially on the sidewalks. In some areas, garbage was collected once a month, once every other month, eventually once every three months, as was the experience in my neighborhood.
Aggravating the situation was Rama’s decision to stop waste segregation shortly into his first term in 2010. Osmeña, who served until June 2010, had started waste segregation at the household level, as mandated by the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, or Republic Act 9003. Segregation helps reduce the volume of garbage that can’t be reused or recycled.
So in June last year, the 20-year-old Inayawan Sanitary Landfill once again became the receptacle of Cebu City’s 500 tons of daily garbage collection. In September, however, after receiving complaints of the extremely foul stench coming from the landfill, the Department of Health inspected the landfill and recommended its closure because of numerous violations. Subsequently, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, after a brief inspection of the landfill in October, ordered its immediate closure. She advised the city to acquire a waste-to-energy plant (Sun Star Cebu, October 21, 2016). On December 15, the Court of Appeals, in granting the writ of kalikasan sought by Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, issued a permanent closure order.
The city was forced to stop the dumping of garbage in Inayawan, and instead the barangay trucks started to unload the garbage on a portion of the city’s South Road Properties (SRP). The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB7) warned that this area could be used only as a transfer station, not as a permanent disposal site. Eventually, Mayor Osmeña contracted a private company to haul the garbage from the SRP.
The law requires every barangay to have a solid waste management plan to deal with the handling, collection and disposal of garbage. It is the Barangay Solid Waste Management Council that will make the plan. This council is composed of the local stakeholders like schools and business establishments. Unfortunately, after 16 years with RA 9003, only a very few barangays have a BSWMC, explains Lito Vasquez of Cebu City’s Environment and Natural Resources Office. But change has come.
Nida Cabrera, 2009 Galing Pook winner for barangay participatory environmental management program, is taking charge of the city’s garbage problem. She and the CCENRO staff conduct seminars on waste segregation and composting. They give mother compost to households and have established composting sites around the city. Barangay environmental officers—at least three per barangay except for upland barangays that usually have only one—monitor if garbage has been segregated, identify hotspots and apprehend violators, says Mr. Vasquez. Collection has improved now that the barangay trucks don’t have to take the trip to Consolacion.
Five hundred tons of garbage is being generated daily by Cebu City’s almost one million residents and its thousands of establishments. Money makes the world go round; the more we produce, buy and consume, the more the world goes around. And the more we consume, the more we also throw away.
No wonder that Mayor Osmeña, as reported in Sun Star Cebu, became excited when he saw Singapore’s waste-to-energy plants destroy 500 tons of garbage, generating electricity as a by-product. But waste reduction, reuse and recycling are, environmentally and economically, still the soundest solutions for Cebu City and the Philippines. These solutions require political will, something that unfortunately seems to be in short supply in most of our barangays.