Pandan Antique Philippines

About the Metro Manila’s Garbage Problem: A Commentary

By Dr. Cesar D. Candari
Chairman, Pandan Antique Foundation, Inc.

A hot topic about what to do with Metro Manila’s trash problem is under consideration by the Metro Manila Management Authority (MMDA). Remember the recent Payatas and the Smokey Mountain’s sad stories about their garbage? Now the San Mateo landfill in Rizal province will be closed by the end of the year and Manila’s garbage must be dumped somewhere. No municipality near Manila would agree to being the garbage dump, no matter how much bribe was offered to them. Therefore, the Manila garbage must be dumped elsewhere. It was reported that the Philippine government has earmarked P1billion to fund the operations of a proposed disposal facility to be operational on January 1, 2001.

Now the crux of the matter! The MMDA plans to use the island of Semirara of Caluya town, in the province of Antique, as the new dumping ground for the trash. Semirara Island is only a few kilometers away from Pandan Bay, the hometown of this writer. It is a breath away from the world-famous Boracay Beach Resort in Aklan province. It is about 300 kilometers from Manila by sea. What in the world did MMDA chairman Jejomar Binay think of when he considered the province of Antique to be Manila’s dumping site? Does he really think that the Antiquenos are that gullible and he expects them to say nothing about this preposterous decision? I say this is foul!

It is interesting to note that DMCI-RII Builders Consortium and Waste Action Recycling, Inc. (WAR), the two big companies vying for the contract for dumping of waste, are tipping a fee of P950 per metric ton. We are talking about 2,000 metric tons of garbage to be dumped daily. One can imagine the financial gains these companies will net from the garbage contract that they may be blinded by the money and become indifferent to the many environmental hazards the people in the Antique region will be exposed to.

We must not sacrifice the health and safety of the residents of Semirara and those in the nearby towns of Antique like Pandan, Libertad, and Culasi, and the town of Malay in Aklan province. We must preserve their ecosystems. Caluya and its neighboring islands like Boracay, have pristine beaches, coral formations, and marine life that provide a fertile fishing ground for the islanders’ food and their fishing industry. Seashells abound, and some of them are rare species. Caluya has also been declared by the Philippine Ministry of Natural Resources as a bird and turtle sanctuary. Its beaches have white sand and its waters are ideal for scuba diving and spear fishing. What will happen if one of the barges loaded with garbage gets caught in the rough sea and sinks, or if the crew decides to dump the garbage into the sea? The millions of pounds of garbage per year from the Metropolis are potential pollutants of toxins and carcinogens that could leach into the groundwater. The incineration can release dioxins into the atmosphere.

The people of Caluya have been complaining about the operations of the Semirara Coal Corporation (SCC) in Semirara. It has dumped extracted soil from its mine into the sea, destroying the coral reefs and killing the fishes. However, despite the mounting oppositions from the islanders, the government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted SCC an environmental compliance certificate. Lo and behold! SCC is a subsidiary of DMCI Holdings, the consortium that is interested in the Semirara dumpsite contract. And now dump in Semirara the garbage from Manila? Antiquenos, are we going to take this lying down? This is a brazen disregard for our basic right to live in a clean environment. Let’s not forget what our hero, Jose Rizal, said: “There are no tyrants where there are no slaves.” It is time to stop ourselves from being tyrannized by arrogant officials of the government in Manila.

Remember that big money is being considered in this dumpsite project. We hope that our local leaders and politicians will not be swayed or lured by the big bucks being dangled before them in exchange for their approval of the plan. Can we trust our leaders? It behooves us, people of Antique, natives of Semirara and Caluya, to stand up and resist this ridiculous and dangerous proposal.

There are many options open to us, natives of Antique, but complacency and meekness should not be among them. Although we are already U.S. citizens, we still support our families in the Philippines by sending them our dollars. Our dollars help the economy of the country. We can influence our relatives’ choices in the upcoming elections. We need a strong lobby to achieve our goals. We need to write or e-mail the local politicians in our province. The whole of our letters is greater than the sum of all its parts.

The residents of Caluya must also be informed about the potential health hazards of the proposed dumpsite in Semirara. Let them carry the initiative to oppose the MMDA plan.

(Editor’s Note: In this issue, an open letter has been written protesting the plan of dumping Manila’s garbage on the Island of Semirara, in the town of Caluya, province of Antique. The letter represents the views of three organizations based in California, USA, and in Manila, Philippines, whose members were original residents of Pandan, Antique.)