Then and now

By Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos |August 14,2016 - 08:23 PM

Any news about Inayawan landfill — whether about it operating beyond its carrying capacity, its closure or re-opening — makes me sigh, because of countless opportunities lost through the decades of inaction and apathy.

Inayawan is symbolic of uncontrollable crass materialism pervading our world, with no palpable political will for nature-based solutions in sight, in this part of the world.

Despite a very good law on ecological solid waste management, RA 9003, which prioritizes resource use minimization, reuse, recycling and composting for biodegradables, the mindless Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) mentality continues to operate. Out of sight, we don’t care to know where the materials find its final destination. Never mind if the poor children, women and men residing in communities hosting open dumpsites get sicker from the harmful effects of the waste pollution.

A study conducted years back in the Inayawan area showed a high level of mercury, but it did not stir the much-urgent action to implement the law or compel a massive awareness campaign for the citizens.

There were attempts to have RA 9003 implemented, because of the clear refusal of authorities to hold public officers accountable. Concerned inhabitants sent the required notice to sue, to sitting mayors.

The earlier notice made a dent as Cebu City consequently crafted an ordinance and in fact, implementation went to a good start, with a highly innovative community-based enforcement mechanism. But, it was not sustained. Lack of widespread awareness and inconsistent enforcement were two factors and eventually, politics reared its ugly head. The officers who were looking at solutions based on RA 9003 were replaced when a new mayor took over.

Attention was then called for the city to craft a 10-year solid waste management (SWM) plan, with participation from various stakeholders. But, this essential roadmap did not materialize and as yet, there is still no plan duly approved by the National Solid Waste Management Commission for the city.

Some local government units in the country are already the object of investigation by the Environmental Ombudsman for gross failure to have the SWM plan and in maintaining open dumpsites. Inayawan definitely falls in that category.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco municipality in Camotes Islands in the province of Cebu under former mayor Al Arquillano has shown that zero-waste management is possible. It is the only compliant municipality when we talk about implementation of RA 9003 in Cebu province. The LGU shows that it can be done. So did Barangay Luz, with former Cebu City councilor and then barangay councilor and barangay head, Nida Cabrera as the change agent and eventually bagging the participatory environment management Galing Pook award.

But, for as long as supervising LGUs such as the governor and the mayors don’t lift a finger to ensure that the law is implemented by the component municipalities, cities and barangays, the problem with waste management will haunt us forever.

More than a decade has passed since RA 9003 was enacted. Former Cebu City councilor Nestor Archival has gone on to set up a model house in 2003 which showcases ecological solid waste management, recycling practices, rainwater catchment, self-sufficient organic agriculture. He is now the leading proponent for the use of renewable energy such as solar power and the use of battery-operated transportation system. His “House Close to Nature” has become the must-see destination in Cebu as a doable sustainable lifestyle model.

Alas, there are only a handful of Archivals, Cabreras and Arquillanos in our midst. The first two even lost in the last elections, perhaps a signal that some vested interests do not relish having green-minded political leaders in governance.

But, as always, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Now, we are seeing Mayor Luigi Quisumbing of Mandaue City showing early on in his term a glimpse of political will in action, by strictly banning the use of plastic bags.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez likewise entered into an agreement with other national agencies to stop massive environmental crimes. This should cover widespread violations of pollution laws such as RA 9003 and the destruction of our marine and coastal habitats through reclamation projects. Accountability should be mainstreamed.

If only political authorities take the time to understand their important role in instilling care for our home planet and if only there are more citizens who would dare to fight for their rights and for Mother Nature, then, we can say that this generation did show genuine concern for this and succeeding generations’ common and now vastly imperiled future. The time for action is now.

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