Pandan Antique Philippines


By Senator Loren Legarda-Leviste
Privilege Speech Delivered on January 9, 2001

As we begin a new year, it was my sincere and earnest hope that our countrymen would find new purpose in their lives and that business enterprises would be more sensitive to their role as engines of progress, as generators of a higher standard of living. Perhaps I may have been too optimistic.

Last December 8, I responded to a letter of Governor Exequiel Javier of Antique, my beautiful and historic home province. Governor Javier informed me about the strong objections of his constituents to the siting of a sanitary landfill on Semirara Island, a landfill project for the waste of Metro Manila.

The governor explained that together with the mayor of Caluya and the barangay captain of Semirara, he and the two local officials had previously issued certificates of willingness. Now he was apprehensive that the certificates were being used — or misused — for another project, an interim waste disposal facility. In their certificates, the three officials established certain conditions for the project, including an Environmental Compliance Certificate or ECC, public consultations with the residents, and a concrete proposal that would be submitted by the proponents and later approved by the Sangguniangbayan.

The project proponents were DM Consunji, Inc., CELDEX (a Canadian firm) and R-II Builders, which had jointly participated in the bidding held by the Presidential Committee on Flagship Projects for a permanent landfill facility. Having failed to award the contract due to a temporary restraining order (TRO) secured by Jancom, the Flagship Committee urgently searched for an interim site. This was in the wake of the Payatas tragedy in Quezon City that buried alive more than 200 people and injured many others. At that time, the Aventajado committee was actively considering both Semirara and Bataan as possible waste dumps.

I endorsed the letter of Governor Javier to Antonio Cerilles, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as well as to Robert Aventajado, Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Flagship Projects for their appropriate action.

A few weeks later, I was to discover that the people of Antique genuinely shared my concern. At the Christmas party held by the Pagtatap Foundation of Pandan, I was informed by officers and members of the urgency of this problem. The Presidential Committee had finally chosen Semirara, with DM Consunji, Inc. and R-II Builders as proponents, to be the alternative interim site for Metro Manila waste upon the closure of the San Mateo, Rizal, dump site by the end of the year 2000.

The problem of my fellow Antiquenos, as I have been made to understand, is that the Flagship Committee made a suspiciously swift decision. The project’s plans were never publicly finalized and hardly discussed. The first public consultation was held in San Jose during one Thursday in December and was followed the next day by a meeting in Semirara. In a span of only two days, the Semirara interim facility was a done deal.

Since this was deemed an interim facility, that is, operational only for a period of two years, the proponents believed that the environmental requirements would not be stringent. In fact, they thought an ECC was considered unnecessary — the DENR would only have to approve the Environmental Management Plan. Consultations with local stakeholders would be at a bare minimum because, with the certificates of willingness, the proponents presumed that local permits would be easy to secure.

The presumption was entirely wrong and the Antiquenos and the whole of Panay vehemently opposed this project. They pointed out that Semirara is part of the municipality of Caluya, and the Ministry of Natural Resources under MNR-AO No. 34 had officially declared Caluya as a marine turtle sanctuary in 1982. On this premise alone, they believe that the island cannot be transformed into a “garbage dump” or “trash can” of Metro Manila. In addition, the Haribon Foundation noted that, being on the path of migratory birds, the island would also be a bird sanctuary.

The people of Antique have reason to be wary of corporations out to exploit the island and its resources. They recall the poor performance of Semirara Coal Corporation in complying with environmental laws, particularly in the disposal of mine waste into its waters. They also note that R-II Builders had failed to clean up Smokey Mountain although it had completed all other commercial development aspects. Accordingly, they mounted protest actions in San Jose, and then in Pandan and Semirara. I received complaints and pleas for assistance through phone calls, visits and electronic mail. For the first time in so many decades, the Antiquenos were united on a singular issue.

At this point, it became clear that DM Consunji, Inc., R-II Builders planned to load daily the open coal barges of Semirara Coal Corporation at Pier 18, North Harbor with 2,000 tons of waste. They would bring the waste to Semirara, and unload it on the premises of Barangay Panian. There, a 20-hectare area would be “prepared” by the proponents to receive the waste. For a two-year operation, the proponents would receive approximately 1.4 Billion Pesos from the Philippine government at an average rate of US $19 per ton tipping fee.

Last Thursday, two barges heavy with waste arrived off the coast of Semirara but remained at sea. The open barges of Semirara Coal Corporation, DMCI and R-II Builders could not, and to this day, cannot unload their vile and festering cargo in view of a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing 20 days for the opponents of the project to prove that a permanent injunction is necessary. The truth is that the DENR has not issued any permit for this project, as announced last Saturday by EMB Director Peter Anthony Abaya.

In the meantime, a number of citizens’ groups are agitated over reports that the barges are leaching and polluting the waters of Semirara. Leachate spillage is bound to occur when mixed urban waste is loaded onto open barges and transported across many kilometers of open seas. The discharge of these highly pollutive substances is now endangering both marine and coastal life, including human life.

While the national government is struggling to promote tourism and the protection of our ecosystems, government contractors and private corporations are virtually destroying the very same ecosystems through greed and indifference. Thus the coast of Semirara and the neighboring world-class beaches such as Boracay, 15 nautical miles away, are now threatened by dangerous leachings from Metro Manila garbage. The DOT was never consulted nor informed about this short term measure. They believed that this short term solution will create a long term problem that will destroy the environment and an area where our best anchor destinations are located.

I have called on the Philippine Coast Guard, the entity tasked to protect our marine and coastal ecosystems. I have requested the Coastguard to patrol the waters around Semirara and to strictly enforce the law in a move to prevent or minimize pollution as a result of waste spillage or leachate from the barges.

This story about Antique and the efforts of the residents on that island to protect their natural resources and their lives lie deeply at the roots of the legislation before us today, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. This Act, in the fashionable phrase of the day, is material and relevant to the health of the Filipino as well as to the enhancement of our environment and future.

The Senate and the House recently approved the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which will soon be transmitted to President Joseph Estrada for his signature. The objective of the new law is to put in place long-term, efficient and environmentally sound solutions to the current garbage crisis.

As author and principal sponsor of this Act, we made certain that the proposed law introduces stringent requirements for new siting and operations of landfill facilities, whether permanent or interim in nature. Further, it lays down certain physical, ecological and social criteria that must be followed in the process of waste disposal. In particular, it bans siting on environmentally sensitive areas such as watersheds, groundwater reservoirs, aquifers and other protected areas.

Equally significant, the act mandates the closure of all open and controlled dumps within a three-year period. It prohibits the opening of any new or controlled dumps upon its effectivity. It provides that only materials recovery facilities, sanitary landfills and other ecological waste management facilities may be established.

On a personal level, I believe that this modest Act reflects an emerging Filipino ethic that deals with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon our corner of this earth. As a people, we are becoming more conscious that all life on this planet survives and thrives within a “thin and fragile envelope of air, land and water not even ten kilometers thick.”

In the meantime, the residents of the capital region and the Metro Manila Development Authority are haunted by the specter of uncollected garbage mounds in the streets and sidewalks, in empty lots and open spaces. Our main and abiding hope is that with the passage of the Solid Waste Management Act, we can begin to seriously and intensively address our growing waste problem and explore the opportunities to recreate the Philippines as it once was reputed to be before garbage became an extraordinary and enormous problem — the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Thank you and good day.