Friday, October 22, 2010

Metro garbage is MMDA’s problem

Friends from environmentalist and cause-oriented groups were ecstatic
over the recent on-the-air commitment given by Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje that the
controversial—and lethal—Payatas dump will be closed by December 31
this year.

In more ways than one, this on-the-air public commitment is a victory
for these groups who took up the cudgels for the victims of the
Payatas tragedy of July 2000 and who kept the issue alive throughout
the past one decade. Paje’s commitment—which in turn is based on a
written pledge by Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista—is the best we
can do for the many who perished in that tragedy.

It is also the best that the government can do for all of us who
breathe the oxygen contaminated by the foul air emanating from the
Payatas dump.

Our friends, however, called out attention to some very important
aspects of this whole Metro Manila garbage issue. And based on their
inputs, it looks like we overlooked something major.

As Secretary Paje pointed out in our interview with him in our radio
program Karambola sa dwIZ, there is a “division of labor” as far as
the whole garbage problem is concerned. The DENR, both as the lead
ecological agency and as chair of the National Solid Waste Commission,
is in charge of policy and enforcement of the laws aimed at protecting
our environment.

Meanwhile, local government units are responsible for the waste
disposal and management systems within their respective localities.
They are also responsible for making sure such systems conform to laws
and policies.

But in Metro Manila, who is supposed to think up, plan and give us a
viable waste disposal and management system that comply with the law?

By the looks of it, this responsibility belongs to the Metro Manila
Development Authority.

Yes, MMDA. The agency that seems to have expended all its attention
and resources to traffic management (or mismanagement) and hardly any
to another important responsibility—making sure we, Metro Manilans,
have a viable and legal solid waste management system.

It looks like this is the aspect of Republic Act 9003 which we may
have overlooked in the apparent rush on the part of the cause-oriented
sector to pass judgment on the role of the DENR in the Payatas

It is pointed out that RA 9003 itself clearly explains that the MMDA
is responsible for ensuring that Metro Manila has a viable,
sustainable and legal solid waste disposal system.

It appears RA 9003 has designated the MMDA as chair of the Solid Waste
Management Board for Metro Manila. As such, the MMDA is tasked with
making sure that the local government units within Metro Manila follow
and comply with RA 9003. In addition, RA 7924 which created the MMDA
was also clear in tasking this agency to oversee metro-wide services
which include the solid waste management and disposal.

It is unfortunate that the DENR had to take most, if not all, of the
flak for the continuing operation of the Payatas dump which, as
Secretary Paje himself admitted on the air, was outright illegal by
virtue of the ban imposed by RA 9003.

The fact may have been overlooked that the agency is tasked with
overseeing garbage management in the National Capital Region and that
the chairman is supposed to be the garbage czar of Metro Manila.

Paje had publicly explained the role of the DENR in the garbage
controversy spawned by the continuing illegal operation of the Payatas
dump. It is about time MMDA chair Francis Tolentino explained to us
what the MMDA has done in the face of this continuing illegal

He may also have to explain to the public why the agency has merely
stood by as the Payatas dump continues its illegal existence. And if
that really was the case, then Tolentino may have to convince us all
that the MMDA was not a willing accomplice in the perpetuation of the
injustice which is the illegal Payatas dump.

More important, Tolentino has to tell us what the MMDA’s overall plan
for Metro Manila’s garbage is.

According to Paje, there are still around 800 illegal dumps operating
all over the country, and we suspect some of them are actually here in
Metro Manila. The question is: Are these illegal dumps operating
because of the absence of a legal alternative that the MMDA is
supposed to provide us?

We noticed that some quarters have raised the specter of a possible
Metro Manila garbage crisis once Payatas is closed down in December
this year in line with the written commitment of Quezon City Mayor
Herbert Bautista.

This could merely be a scare tactic being employed by those who want
to keep Payatas open.

But this could also be true.

Whether or not a garbage crisis is looming, nothing can justify the
continuing operation of the largest illegal dump in the country.

Tolentino has to assure us that such scenario will not happen because
his agency is ready to deal with the garbage problem.

We do hope he is.


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