The ineffective and inefficient solid waste collection and disposal could be humanity’s gravest sin against the environment. The first responders to this problem are the local governments. Laws had been passed, policies issued, plans and programs formulated to compel and guide local government units to address this grave concern. Some local governments are unable to adhere to environmental laws, rules, and regulations. Aside from environmental degradation due to resource extraction in watershed communities, among the problems being encountered by local governments in effectively and efficiently solving their garbage problems are inadequate land for waste management facilities, the absence of social acceptability, the existence of numerous technologies that tend to confuse experts and too much politicking among the local officials.
The national government, to address this violation to the environment, passed the Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and the put in place the National Solid Waste Commission (NSWMC). The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and attached agencies like the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) had provided numerous opportunities for local governments to avail of their services in complying with the mandate of the law which is to close the operation of open dumpsites and shift to sanitary landfills and other environmentally acceptable and feasible technologies to treat their garbage. The law further provides local governments a 10-year transition period to comply. However, it seems most local governments, especially in the region, had not been able to meet the prescribed deadline.
The data from the Cordillera office of the EMB shows there are only ten local governments regionwide that were able to submit their respective 10-year solid waste management plans which are either pending approval before the NSWMC or have been acted upon. The region is composed of 75 municipalities, two cities, and seven provinces, thus, the region’s performance in compliance with solid waste laws is considered by experts as miserable.
We are saddened by these very disappointing figures in relation to the compliance of local governments to the provisions of the solid waste management law. It will be illogical for local officials to be making environmental preservation and protection as their priority programs when their local governments do not have yet the required 10-year solid waste management disposal plans, the blueprint of long-term actions to prevent the garbage crisis in their jurisdiction. Some of the local governments have just been satisfied with hauling out their residual waste to the sanitary landfill in Tarlac. Millions of pesos are spent annually just for hauling and this money deprives their constituents of desired development projects and improved basic services. Other local officials are just fence-sitting until the next election when the garbage can be used as a campaign issue. A number of local officials also try to grandstand about the issue but the fact is, during their term, the problem was worst because of alleged excessive tipping fees, among other major issues that had been appropriately addressed.
One of the suggested solutions to this garbage issue in contiguously situated localities is for the establishment of a clustered landfill with components of various technologies in place to serve the common garbage disposal needs of the said localities. We commend the local officials of the six municipalities in Ifugao who decided to enter into such an agreement for the put up of a landfill in one of the municipalities to serve the constituent towns. Aside from maximizing their resources, they are also complying with the mandate of existing laws. The decision of these officials to get their acts together and give up their parochial interests is a sign of mature governance and political leadership, unlike in other places, including urban centers, where political survival is the name of the game.
The failure of local governments to adhere to accepted standards for the disposal of garbage generated in their areas of jurisdiction remains a serious violation of their mandate to progressively fulfill their obligation to ensure the well-being of their constituencies.
However, the biggest responsibility for waste disposal lies at the household level. Despite the garbage segregation policy, many households still do not practice this leaving garbage not collected and strewn around. Despite the ban on burning of wastes, so many households still burn their waste including plastic. Worse, barangay officials, especially the environment and health committees are not acting on this matter. Garbage are being burned even beside schools subjecting school children to toxic fumes. These cases illustrate the fact that at the individual level, we still need to be educated. We think we will not be chased by the results of our actions but payback is in the polluted waters and air around us and destroyed resources that no more sustain us. We are just waiting for nature to lash back. We will have nothing to bequeath to future generations. We need not wait for nature to release its wrath upon us before we realise it is too late the hero.
Our local governments and households must do their responsibilities in addressing our garbage problems. We owe it to future generations to ensure that the resources are there for their survival in an environment that supports their well-being.