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Monday, January 31, 2011

Chinese food diners urged to drop disposable chopsticks

Chinese food diners urged to drop disposable chopsticks

1 February 2011, Quezon City. As the Chinese community gets ready to usher in the Year of the Metal Rabbit, a waste and pollution watchdog urged Filipinos who plan to dine in Chinese restaurants to bring reusable chopsticks in lieu of single-use chopsticks that, by design, go to the bins after use.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental network campaigning for sustainable living, appealed to Chinese food lovers to switch to reusable chopsticks as a fitting response to the environmental troubles being faced by both China and the Philippines.

“We are adding our voice to the clamor to cut the use and disposal of single-use chopsticks because of the deforestation and flooding problems in China, the world’s number one maker and exporter of disposable chopsticks, and our own persistent battle against garbage due to the incursion of throwaway habits into the national culture,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“By making a switch from disposable to reusable chopsticks, we help in assuaging China’s problem with deforestation that leads to soil erosion and destructive flooding and in trimming down chopstick trash from our consumption of mouth-watering East Asian food,” he pointed out.

“If you are planning to eat out in Binondo or dine in your favorite Chinese restaurant elsewhere, please bring your own reusable chopsticks and protect trees from being cut and wasted,” suggested Alvarez.

“We likewise encourage restaurant owners to provide their customers with clean reusable chopsticks and offer single-use chopsticks by request only,” he said.

“To entice their customers to switch to reusable chopsticks, eco-minded food entrepreneurs can provide incentives such as extra fortune cookies or fruit servings,” he added.

EcoWaste Coalition’s Basura Patrollers observed that only __ of the __Chinese restaurants they visited along Ongpin Street and side streets in the heart of Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, offer reusable chopsticks.

Aside from bringing your own chopsticks, the EcoWaste Coalition advises the public, especially those planning to go to Binondo in the coming days to:

1.Bring reusable bags to carry “good luck charms,” fruits, “tikoy” and other Chinese delicacies that are plentiful in the area. Say “no” to plastic bags.

2.Bring containers for popular “take home” Chinese dishes that abound in Chinatown such as dumplings, steamed or fried buns, noodles, soups, stews and porridge. Cut your use of wasteful polystyrene food containers.

3. Consider making a healthy and eco-friendly food choice: go for vegetarian Chinese cuisine.

Citing information that Greenpeace East Asia obtained from China’s forestry authorities, the EcoWaste Coalition noted that China produces some 57 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks annually that requires over 1.18 million square meters of forest to be cut.

Chinese government data reveal that over 25 million trees are felled in China each year to meet the consumer demand for disposable chopsticks inside China and overseas.

Last year in June, China's Ministry of Commerce and five other ministries warned that "companies making disposable chopsticks will face local government restrictions aimed at decreasing the use of the throwaway utensil. Production, circulation and recycling of disposable chopsticks should be more strictly supervised."

Civil Society Pushes Strong and Ambitious Treaty to Combat Mercury Pollution

Delegates from more than 120 countries, including the Philippines, discussed actions to address sources of mercury pollution as they worked this week to negotiate a binding global mercury treaty. However, many issues must still be resolved before a comprehensive agreement protecting public health and truly honoring the proposal to name the treaty, the Minamata Convention, is assured.

The meeting held in Chiba, Japan from January 24-28 marked the second intergovernmental negotiating meeting in a series of five meetings that will culminate in a diplomatic conference in 2013 to sign the treaty.

Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna, Director of the Environmental Management Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources led the three-person government delegation to the meeting.

They were also joined by civil society observers from Ban Toxics, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm and the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology-Philippines.

“Timelines for the phase-out of mercury-using manufacturing processes, clean-up of contaminated sites, and how to address the major sources of mercury emissions, such as coal combustion and small scale gold mining, all remain unresolved at this point,” said Dr. Olga Speranskaya, co-chair of the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) . “We hope the delegates make significant progress on these issues at the third negotiating session which will take place in Africa, in approximately eight months.”

Big developing countries rejected proposals to address coal combustion arguing that a goal to reduce them was not needed. A few hours of discussing small scale gold mining led to larger questions about how the treaty would address both mercury and the larger livelihood and poverty issues.

The Minamata tragedy loomed over the discussions as representatives from 13 victims’ groups insisted that the unresolved disaster must be authentically addressed before the treaty could take the Minamata name in 2013.

Minamata disease sufferer, Shinobu Sakamoto, presented a statement from 13 Minamata victims and supporter groups directly to the Vice Minister of the Japanese Ministry of Environment. More than 72 public interest civil society organizations from 42 countries supported the Minamata groups’ demands in the Honoring Minamata statement. Many participants pinned orange and blue ribbons to their clothing as reminders of the tragedy.

“This week the global community made a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the victims of Minamata through INC2 mercury discussions. Symbolic gestures can only go so far. Real, immediate, and effective global actions that stop mercury pollution are the only actions that bring honor and justice to Minamata and its memory,” said Takeshi Yasuma of Citizens Against Chemicals Pollution (CACP-Japan).

"Japan knows more than any country in the world the terrible cost to life and the environment that mercury causes because of Minamata," said Atty. Richard Gutierrez of Ban Toxics. "Only a ban of Japanese mercury export can begin to give honor to Minamata's legacy."

Several negotiation topics related directly to the Minamata tragedy which was caused by a manufacturing process that produced a contaminated site in the Minamata Bay and contaminated fish. The specific process that caused the disaster (mercury-catalyzed acetaldehyde production) was left out of the list of processes that the treaty should address.

More importantly, delegates did not agree to establish any global timeline for the phase-out of any mercury-using manufacturing processes. Delegates also disagreed on measures to address contaminated sites, with many donor countries proposing only voluntary action to identify and clean-up sites which would likely disqualify the activity from the treaty financial mechanism.

Many governments repeatedly used the word “flexibility” during the week-long negotiating meeting to describe their approach to actually taking action on mercury. NGOs hope that “flexibility” – a term used by many delegates during the week-long meeting – is not simply an excuse for half-hearted measures that fail to protect human health and the environment from the serious harms of mercury.

“The mercury treaty negotiation needs government champions,” said Dr. Mariann Lloyd-Smith, IPEN co-chair. “We are looking for an ambitious approach to mercury pollution and a strong treaty whose actions will once again make fish safe to eat.”

“Governments need to step up and take more leadership in this debate”, stated Dr. Linda E. Greer of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Zero Mercury Working Group. “Mercury is a problem within our grasp to solve, but it will take political will and focus to resolve it.”

Looking forward, public interest NGOs urge delegates to effectively address all mercury emissions, not just emissions to air, and to take authentic actions to resolve the ongoing Minamata tragedy. NGOs remained committed to a comprehensive treaty that addresses all human sources of mercury so that fish are once again safe to eat.

Japan happy with Jpepa, gives PH P21-B loan

Japan is pleased with the economic fruits of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) and wants to further the cooperation between the two countries toward full implementation, the Japanese ambassador to Manila said Friday.

“We’re very happy to see very good, positive results since the entry into force of the Jpepa,” said Ambassador Makoto Katsura in a briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

He cited the growth of Philippine exports to Japan, particularly raw goods, as well as a rise in Japanese foreign direct investments (FDI) in the Philippines.

“For example, your agricultural products such as bananas or coconuts enter Japan more easily because in Japan (we impose) lower tax (on) your agricultural products,” he said.

In the meantime, Japan has extended to the Philippines a P21.4-billion loan for the repair and maintenance of roads in several parts of the country, its first such development project in the Aquino administration.

Katsura signed and exchanged notes on Friday with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo formally granting the Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The 40.8-billion-yen loan for the “Road Upgrading and Preservation Project” was coursed through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Under ODA terms, an annual interest rate of 1.4 percent would be charged over a 25-year repayment period, with a seven-year grace period and “very concessional terms and interest among various funding sources.”

Katsura said banana imports increased by 34 percent and coconut by 36 percent.

“This is a tangible result of the entry into force of Jpepa,” he added.

The Jpepa was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2008.

The envoy also noted that the Japanese FDI “represented 58 percent of all FDIs you received from the world in 2010.”

“Maybe Japanese investors were waiting for the entry into force of Jpepa so we’re very happy to see these very strong, powerful, positive developments after the entry in force of the Jpepa,” Katsura said.

He said further cooperation between the two countries was important.

“I think your government will start or has started research or study, and of course, in Japanese, we have somebody here. And some time this year, we can start talking to each other on these Jpepa issues,” he said.

The road repair project was first pledged at a meeting between President Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at a regional leaders’ summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on October 29 last year.

Japan has been the top ODA donor to the Philippines for years.

“This project reaffirms the government of Japan’s continued commitment extending cooperation in achieving sustainable growth in the Philippines and improving the living environment of the Filipino people, which will further foster a strategic partnership between the two countries toward the future,” the Japan Embassy said in a statement.

Some of Japan’s contributions to the Philippines’ road network are the 2,100-km Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway from Aparri to Davao and the 94-km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

Where plastic bags are banned

Mumbai, India
starting 2000)

Dhaka, Bangladesh
March 2002)

South Africa (May 2003)

Himachal Pradesh, India
August 2003)

Rwanda (2005)

Eritrea (2005)

Zanzibar (2006)

Tanzania (2006)

San Francisco, United States
(March 2007)

Modbury, Britain (April 2007)

China (June 2008)

New Delhi, India
January 2009)

Mexico (August 2009)

Rangoon, Burma (2009)

Karwar, India (August 2010)

Tirumala, India
(August 2010)

Rajasthan, India
(August 2010)

Italy (January 2011)

Countries that tax plastic-bag use

Ireland (starting May 2002)

Belgium (July 2007)

New Zealand (March 2009)

Countries that ban and tax use of plastic bags

Kenya (June 2007)

Uganda (June 2007)

Muntinlupa City ban

Sando bags (those with handles) used as primary packaging materials for dry goods

Materials without handles or those usually used in the wet market for fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, drinks and other goods

All other plastic bags


No business establishment shall use Styrofoam/styrophor and other similar materials as containers for food, produce and other products

No business establishments shall offer or sell plastic bags to be used as primary or secondary packaging material on dry goods.

Discarded plastic bags and other similar plastic waste materials must be cleaned and dried before submission to barangays for proper collection and disposal.


P500 for the first offense

P1,000 for the second offense

P2,500 for the third offense and/or imprisonment of not more than six months upon the discretion of the court.

Business establishments found violating the law also face a one-year cancellation of their license to operate

CITYWIDE PLASTIC BAN Muntinlupa takes giant step

Officials of Muntinlupa have taken a monumental step in protecting the environment by banning plastic bags and polystyrene in the city.

This is an encouraging boost that we in the environmental movement have been waiting for. In all our engagements with local government units, every time we present the adverse effects of plastic bags on health and the environment, the common knee-jerk response is that the initiative to ban plastic bags should come from the national government.

Relying on our national government may not be our best option because of the uncertainty of passing ecologically sound bills in our legislature.

Good precedent

Thus, the example set by Muntinlupa, among others, establishes a good precedent and a clear statement that, with political will, a ban is doable. (Los Baños in Laguna, Sta. Barbara in Iloilo, Burgos in Pangasinan and Odiongan in Romblon have also taken moves against the use of plastic bags.)

A positive national impact of the ban is that it opens up livelihood opportunities for producing baskets, bayong and other organic, reusable bags using katsa or available indigenous materials.

Both our urban and rural populations will benefit from this opportunity since raw materials are available where they are: discarded paper and cloth in the city; abaca, buri, and other plant fibers in provinces.

Indirectly, this may reduce the urge to migrate to cities since a source of income becomes available in the provinces.

Similarly, it will open doors to discussions on how people should be stewards of the environment, which provides their basic raw materials.

In 2009, the United Nations Environment Program executive director, Achim Steiner, expressed the need to ban plastic bags, highlighting the seriousness of plastic pollution and the urgency of taking action against the material.

“Single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere,” Steiner says.

“There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” he adds.

Trillion bags

Every year, around 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, with over one million bags used every minute.

Plastic pollution from Asia, the Pacific and North America is sucked into the North Pacific Gyre, an area between Hawaii and the United States mainland.

Food chain

The pollution mingles with sea life, choking and ensnaring marine wildlife and disturbing every level of the food chain.

Now estimated to be twice the size of Texas, 80 percent of the plastic debris come directly from land. Necropsies have showed that many marine creatures had stomachs full of plastic trash that caused their deaths.

Plastic bags and plastic fragments can cause blockage of digestive or intestinal tracts of marine creatures resulting in more than 100,000 deaths of seabirds, turtles and mammals annually.

Plastic litter in the countryside can be eaten by grazing domestic and wild animals and can eventually enter the food chain.


Many plastic items contain toxic chemicals such as biocides and plasticizers that could be released if the items break down or are eaten. Many chemical additives to plastic goods have negative effects on the environment and human health, such as the following:

Direct toxicity, as in the cases of lead, cadmium and mercury

Carcinogens, as in the case of diethylhexyl phthalate, a plasticizer used to make PVC pliable

Endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children.

On the other hand, polystyrene, the main component of Styrofoam, can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. It migrates into food and is stored in body fat. It can cause lymphatic and hematopoietic cancer. Styrofoams, like plastic bags, are nonbiodegradable.

Group wants DepEd pitch healthy practices

A NONGOVERNMENT organization promoting a safe environment for children on Friday urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to embark on a nationwide program that will promote healthy and sustainable values and practices in all schools.

The EcoWaste Coalition called upon Education Secretary Armin Luistro to consider a “National Healthy School Program” that will build on the Education department’s ban on junk foods.

The department this week conveyed its support to a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ban junk foods in schools and playgrounds to promote healthy diet and curb obesity among school-aged kids.

“While commending the ban on junk foods in schools, we urge the DepEd to go further by embarking on a holistic program that will promote a healthy school community that is conducive to well-rounded and well-balanced learning and development,” said educator Dr. Leah Primitiva Samaco-Paquiz, secretary of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“A ‘healthy school program’ will provide guidance on policies and regulations that should be put in place to create a healthful and safe school environment not only in the canteen but in the entire school setting,” she said.

“The suggested program will not start from scratch given the various health and environmental initiatives that have been undertaken by DepEd and other national agencies,” she noted.

13-point proposal
The EcoWaste Coalition has put forward a 13-point proposal that it would like to be reflected in the suggested department’s “healthy school program,” especially for preparatory, primary, elementary and secondary schools:

1. Ban junk foods as well as those containing genetically modified organisms and ensure that only safe and nutrient-rich foods are offered in schools.

2. Reintroduce vegetable gardening as regular student activity.

3. Enforce “Zero Waste” resource management, including waste prevention, reduction, recycling and composting pursuant to Republic Act 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

4. Adopt “green,” non-toxic procurement policy for all school purchases, especially for electronic and electrical products.

5. Ensure proper management of school-generated hazardous waste such as electronic waste like spent mercury-containing lamps and broken computers and TVs.

6. Ensure the use of only “kid-safe” chemicals and products in schools and the use of safer alternatives, including non-chemical substitutes.

7. Enforce “no smoking” policy in schools as embodied in several DepEd’s orders on controlling tobacco use among children and youth.

8. Enforce “clean air” policy in the school: no smoking, no open burning, no smoke belching vehicles and no car idling.

9. Strict use of no-lead, no-mercury paints in classrooms, playgrounds and other school facilities.

10. Eliminate use of mercury thermometers and other mercury-containing equipment in schools in line with DepEd Memorandum Circular 160-2010 reiterating Department of Health (DOH) AO 20-2008, the “Gradual Phase-Out of Mercury in All Philippine Health Care Facilities and Institutions.”

11. Ban use of mercury and other toxic chemicals in school laboratory and related activities.

12. Promote the use of safe school supplies consistent with DOH Memorandum Circular 118-2010, the “Health Advisory on the Selection of School Supplies and Other Products.”

13. Launch a yearly search for “Healthy Schools” to recognize and popularize successful practices in making schools safe and healthy.

A conference involving all stakeholders, including student groups, parent-teacher associations and environmental and health organizations, is essential to achieve broad unity on the scope, objectives and practical applications of the suggested “healthy school program,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“We know that there are a lot more elements of a ‘healthy school program’ that should be fleshed out to ensure a school environment that will support the physical, intellectual, mental and emotional health and well-being of all Filipino children,” Paquiz pointed out.

Aside from the EcoWaste Coalition, other groups such as the Ban Toxics, Health Care Without Harm and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives are keen to support efforts by the education sector to create healthy and safe schools for all.

Paje sets deadlines for cleansing of pending, idle mining projects

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today directed all regional directors of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) to cleanse their respective regions of all pending and inactive mining applications this year, setting two deadlines on February 20, 2011 for the first 50%, and on December 2011 for the remaining 50%.

Paje said the cleansing of ageing mining applications is two-pronged: one is to institute reforms in the mining sector, and two as part of the DENR’s anti-corruption program. “We have to decide once and for all on what to do with all of these mining applications long pending in our regional offices, otherwise the public will continue to perceive us as inefficient and corrupt,” Paje said.

According to Paje, his directive is intended to deprive DENR personnel of any opportunity for corruption. “I want to believe in the goodness of our personnel, in their commitment to serve our country and our people. But if the temptation is overwhelming, the possibility of some of them unable to resist the temptation is always there,” Paje stressed.

Paje also said the move is among the reforms in the mining sector to enhance the management of the country’s natural resources. “We are now moving towards enhancing our implementation of the ‘use it or lose it policy’ where we will be cancelling not only mining applications that are unable to comply with the all the requirements set by the government but also mining tenements that have remained inactive and unproductive for a long time,” Paje stressed.

MGB records show that there are currently 2,180 mining tenement applications that remain pending in various MGB regional offices for an average of 10 years or more. Paje cited as examples of ageing mining applications, to include one for FTAA in Region 13 which remains idle for 16 years, and an MPSA in Region 4A for at least 15 years. “There are also other mining tenements that continue to remain inactive for the past 14 years,” Paje added.

Mining tenements include mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA), exploration permit (EP) and financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA).

Exploration contracts that have already expired for five years or more and mining contracts that have not implemented the three-year work program for two consecutive years are also subject of final action by the DENR, said Paje.

As part of the cleansing procedure, Paje explained that the agency is strictly carrying out the so-called “three letter-notice policy” in exacting compliance with all the requirements by the applicants, with a maximum interval of 30 days between these letters-notices.

Among the requirements in filing for mining applications include the acquisition of Free and Prior Informed Consent by the rightful indigenous peoples concerned as certified by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the NCIP Certificate of Non-Overlap within one year, and the NCIP Certification Precondition (Compliance Certificate) within three years from the date of receipt by NCIP of the pertinent letter-requests from MGB.

The mining applicant must also submit proofs of consultation with the LGU’s Sanggunian within two years from the date of acceptance of the mining application, and the completion of publication, posting and radio announcement within one year from the date of acceptance of the mining application.

Paje stressed that failure on the part of the applicant to comply with any of the requirements shall be a ground for the denial of the mining permit.

DENR sets Feb. 20 deadline for approval of mining projects

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave its local regional offices a deadline to act upon the 2,180 mining tenements applications that have been pending for over a decade.

DENR Secretary Ramon Pace said today that all regional directors of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau should either approve or disapprove half of their pending and inactive mining applications by Feb. 20. The rest should be done by the end of this year.

"We have to decide once and for all on what to do with all of these mining applications long pending in our regional offices, otherwise the public will continue to perceive us as inefficient and corrupt," Paje said.

Mining tenements include mineral production sharing agreement, exploration permit and financial and technical assistance agreement.

The Philippines is among countries having the largest gold, nickel, copper and chromite deposits in the world.

Bottomless well

THIS week, the nation marked the 10th anniversary of Republic Act (RA) 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. It came at a time when renewed concern over the large-scale damage from a combination of uncollected, untreated, unsegregated waste on the one hand, and Ondoy-level flooding on the other, is rising amid debates on continuing climate risks. It also came as debate started to heat up over the unprecedented implementation of a citywide ordinance, the first in the country, banning the use of plastic bags in Muntinlupa City, as part of efforts to reduce the risk of flooding from plastic bags clogging riverways and drainage system.

On the date that the EcoWaste Coalition called attention to the dismal failure of authorities to enforce RA 9003, the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), one of the biggest and most articulate business groups in the country, also warned authorities against the unintended consequences of the Muntinlupa prohibition on plastics, saying it could cause severe economic losses—including the displacement of 175,000 workers—without actually reducing the risk from flooding.

According to FPI chairman Jesus Arranza, instead of an outright ban on plastic bags, authorities should instead focus on improving the waste-recovery and recycling programs from the barangay level up to the national government. He cited England as an example, where the world’s largest recycling facility was set up from the proceeds of selling recovered waste. England may seem to be a far-fetched ambition for now, but there’s no reason we should not aspire to improve on what is, in fact, already being done—albeit with little government support—by the network of segregators, collectors and recyclers in some areas that has taken to heart the mandate of the solid-waste act enacted 10 years ago. Local plastic makers, Arranza said, are very willing to buy the plastic waste, and local government units (LGUs) simply have to come up with effective schemes to collect those recyclable plastic items. This way, not only do drainage systems and waterways get spared from clogged plastic items, the villages also get revenue from selling the items for recycling. The plastic makers can have ready inputs for production and thus, cut resin importation, allowing the country to save on foreign currency. In short, it’s a win-win situation for all, if only those charged to enforce the law, the LGUs primarily, do their job.

But as the record of the past decade shows, implementing a law that took so much time and effort to craft seems to have been an idle wish. The law, signed on January 26, 2001, promised a healthy and sustainable environment, through segregation, recycling and composting to reduce waste.

“The 10-year-old law apparently has not developed into maturity despite its age, considering the garbage and waste crisis the country is in today. What is very depressing is the utter lack of serious implementation of this law, as evidenced by the wanton violations of its major provisions everywhere.” That’s the lament of Roy Alvarez, president of EcoWaste.

Data from the National Solid Waste Management Commission, said EcoWaste, shows that despite the law’s mandate to close down all open dumps by February of 2004, at least 790 open dumps remain in operation. And, while all controlled dumps should have been closed by February 2006, there are 382 controlled dumps still operating—three more than there were in 2009.

According to EcoWaste, little progress is seen in the law’s mandate to set up materials-recovery facilities, or MRFs. There are only 6,957 MRFs, serving barely a fifth, or 7,938, of the more than 42,000 barangays.

EcoWaste also deplores the “sanitary” landfills in areas prohibited by law—and notwithstanding objections by affected communities—such as the San Mateo Landfill in Rizal, the Ternate Landfill on Mount Palay-Palay in Cavite, and the VGP Landfill in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

Add to this litany of disgusting statistics the explicit violations on specific prohibited acts, as noted by EcoWaste: littering; open burning; open dumping; construction of dumps in environmentally critical areas; and the manufacture, distribution, use or importation of non-environmentally acceptable products and services, remain unchecked, if not ignored by those who are supposed to implement the law.

Ten years down the road from 2001, we are presented with yet another glaring illustration of our penchant for enacting good laws without bothering to enforce them, or fund their implementation. Offhand, the Muntinlupa ordinance banning plastics is good because it demonstrates political will and a desire to effect lifestyle change in a particular community. Yet, the FPI has a point in saying that an outright ban on plastics won’t reduce the risks of flooding unless the salient parts of the solid-waste law are seriously implemented—this, while creating the collateral damage on the workers in the plastics and recycling sector.

Perhaps it’s time for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to once and for all throw the book at all LGUs that fail to implement RA 9003. All those governors, mayors and barangay officials who got elected last year should be compelled to pursue segregation, materials recovery and recycling among their constituencies as soon as possible. Unless they are forced to do so, all this talk about reducing the impact from climate risk will go nowhere and will merely mean throwing good money down a bottomless well of misery.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Green groups urge DepEd to promote safe school

GREEN group EcoWaste Coalition yesterday urged the Department of Education to take its ban on junk foods in schools to the next level through a nationwide program that will promote healthy and sustainable values and practices for the benefit of schoolchildren.

"While commending the ban on junk foods in schools, we urge the DepEd to go further by embarking on a holistic program that will promote a healthy school community that is conducive to well-rounded and well-balanced learning and development in schools," said Dr. Leah Samaco-Paquiz, EcoWaste secretary.

Paquiz made the appeal following a recommendation by the World Health Organization to ban junk foods in schools and playgrounds to promote a healthy diet and curb obesity among schoolkids.

WHO fell short of calling for a ban on advertising directed at children for foods high in saturated fats, sugars or salt, opting instead to ask member-states to "consider the most effective approach to reduce" such marketing.

The non-binding recommendations will be discussed in a high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in a general assembly in New York in September.

The WHO said some 43 million pre-school children worldwide are overweight and six out of 10 deaths every year are due to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases, with poor diet a common factor of the four main diseases.

Instead of just banning junk foods, EcoWaste called on Education Secretary Armin Luistro to consider a "National Healthy School Program" that will build on the ban and provide guidance on policies and regulations that will create a healthy and safe school enviroment.

Among the group’s policy recommendations were the revival of the school garden, non-toxic supplies, proper management of school-generated hazardous waste, no-smoking, no-lead, no-mercury, and a yearly search for "Healthy Schools."

Group decries demonization of plastics

The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) said the campaign to avoid use of plastic products is misplaced.

FPI Jesus Arranza said national and local officials advocating a ban or imposition of levies on plastics are barking up the wrong tree and should instead direct their attention to better waste management and recycling programs.

Arranza said that contrary to common belief, plastics are actually the better option environmentally speaking since they retain 100 percent of the energy required to produce them. Besides, plastics are also cheaper and more convenient to use.

"It is a wrong argument to say that plastics should be banned because the sewers are getting clogged. Plastics are not the problem but the waste recovery and recycling system. That is the area where we should focus our attention on and not on the use of plastics per se," Arranza said.

There should also be stricter implementation of laws and ordinances on anti-littering and waste segregation, he added.

Arranza said the local plastics industry employs about 175,000 people so government units should think twice before coming up with regulations that will jeopardize their livelihood.

Arranza said all it takes is improved waste recovery and recycling programs from the barangay level up to the national government.

"In England, for example, they managed to put up the world’s largest recycling facility out of the proceeds from the sale of the recovered wastes," Arranza said.

He said plastic wastes have a ready market in local plastic makers so the local government units only need to come up with effective schemes in collecting these recyclable materials.

Arranza said aside from preventing the sewers from getting clogged, an improved waste recovery and recycling program will also have multiple positive effects.

He added barangays and their communities will have additional earnings from the sale of the recovered plastics while ensuring local plastics makers of ready inputs for production.

This will also help the country save on foreign currency as the volume of resins importation will go down.

Muntinlupa became the first city in the metropolis to ban the use of plastics, a move that was lauded by the Metro Manila Development Authority. There are also proposals to impose additional levies on the use of plastics.

New plant to address growing energy needs in Philippines

Bacavalley Energy Inc., the leading waste-to-energy developer in the Philippines, and GE (NYSE: GE) have inaugurated the first landfill gas power plant in the country to feature GE’s Jenbacher gas engines. The San Pedro Landfill Methane Recovery and Electricity Generation project will help meet the Philippines’ growing energy needs while also reducing the emissions of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

By utilizing methane generated by the San Pedro landfill in Laguna to power GE’s Jenbacher gas engines, the project will reduce the landfill’s methane emissions about 70 percent. The new plant, located 35 kilometers south of Manila, will produce more than four megawatts of electricity for sale to the local grid. Full commercial operation of the new plant is expected by January 2011.

GE supplied four containerized Jenbacher JGC 320 gas engine gensets. Together with DESCO Inc., the authorized Sales & Service Distributor of GE’s Jenbacher gas engines in the Philippines, additional services for up to 60,000 operating hours will be provided.

The Jenbacher engines are specifically designed with the fuel flexibility needed to accommodate the use of alternative fuels such as landfill gas, while offering high levels of electrical efficiency. They are approved under ecomagination, GE’s commitment to invest in a future that creates innovative solutions to global environmental challenges.

“San Pedro is a milestone project for us, marking the first installation of our gas engines on a landfill in the Philippines,” said Prady Iyyanki, CEO-gas engines for GE Power & Water. “It is another example of how customers worldwide are turning to new ways of capturing and using waste gases to meet their energy needs. Many of these customers are using our technology to generate power reliably while cutting greenhouse emissions.”

The San Pedro project will be registered under the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. It also supports the Philippines Department of Energy’s initiative to develop alternative sources of energy and promote cleaner energy sources over the next 20 years.

"We are excited about this renewable energy project, which will improve the level of municipal waste management and create new jobs to the community. With GE Jenbacher's best in class technology, we are confident the success of this facility will quickly find the momentum to replicate itself all over the country," said John Alcordo, GE Energy’s country executive for Philippines.

This announcement continues a series of recent actions in GE’s energy business over the past couple of months aimed at growing its overall presence in the global energy space. On Oct. 1, GE announced its purchase of Calnetix Power Solutions, which expands GE’s capabilities to recover waste heat from industrial processes for electricity generation. On Oct. 6, GE announced the acquisition of Dresser Inc., a global energy infrastructure technology and service provider

Church group to Aquino: Total log ban answer to forest woes

A Church-backed network of groups protesting the continued cutting of trees is urging President Aquino to impose a total ban on commercial logging and cancel all logging licenses that it said have become “façades for illegal logging.”

In a statement sent by e-mail on Tuesday, the Save Sierra Network (SSN) asked Mr. Aquino to take what could be his boldest step yet on environmental protection and cancel all logging licenses that the government has issued.

SSN is a group that includes two Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, indigenous people and environmentalist groups.

In a statement, SSN said radical solutions were needed to put a stop to continued forest destruction in the Philippines. The statement was signed by Infanta Bishop Rolando Tria-Tirona, Laoag Bishop Sergio Utleg and 18 representatives from various organizations demanding a complete stop to logging.

“The massive flooding and landslides in different parts of the country focused the nation’s attention on the urgent need to address climate change,” the group said.

SSN said alternative forms of livelihood should be given to workers in the logging industry and charcoal makers to free them from bondage to logging syndicates that connive with government officials.

It also proposed the creation of forest protection councils in every local government unit and the implementation of a massive reforestation program.

Lastly, the group asked Mr. Aquino to remove corrupt officials and employees at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The leader of a campaign to stop logging in one of the most logged over areas in the country, Sierra Madre, said people fighting logging in the mountain range are now being hunted down by private armies working for logging syndicates.

Fr. Pete Montallana, of the Prelature of Infanta in northern Quezon, said one of his informers is now on the run from armed goons hired by illegal loggers.

Montallana said a climate of fear is now prevailing in Sierra Madre following a series of successful antilogging operations by his group, Task Force Sierra Madre, and government agents.

Montallana said loggers’ goons are targeting informers because the loggers know that without the informers, “we cannot continue with our campaign to save Sierra Madre.”

People who benefit from logging in Sierra Madre are increasingly hostile to anyone perceived to be campaigning against logging.

“The constant mantra is feed us and we will stop cutting trees,” he said.

Environmental groups vow justice for slain broadcaster

Environmental groups on Wednesday expressed outrage at the murder of anti-mining advocate and broadcast journalist Dr. Gerardo Ortega after his morning radio program in Puerto Princesa City last January 24.

“We continue to call for justice for the tragic death of Doc Gerry. His death may be discouraging but his death gives more strength to our fight!,”Artiso Mandawa, chairman of Ancestral Land Domain Watch Network of Palawan (ALDAW), said.

“Ortega is a human rights and environmental advocate. For the past 11 months, he had been very vocal against mining and he also exposed the bribery of government officials, especially among those endorsing mining,” Mandawa said.

The suspected gunman, Marlon de Macata, with alias Marvin Alcaraz, was quickly apprehended and is now under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn also condemned the murder of Ortega, a veterinarian and a former member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan.

Hagedorn returned to Puerto Princesa the day after the killing to meet with the police and the media and said he was scheduled to meet Ortega in Manila to discuss environmental issues but those who want him dead got to him first.

Investigation reports said the suspected hired gun was from Taguig City and that the pistol he had used was registered in the name of a lawyer who used to be a legal adviser of former Gov. Joel Reyes.

Lawyer Robert Chan, executive director of the Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI), said the gruesome killing of Ortega would push environmental protection advocates to work with vigor.

“Now is not the time for us to feel sorry about the incident. It is a time for us to be angry, for it is that anger that will fuel our motivation to do something about it, that of which is our duty to prevent any violence to curtailing free speech,” Chan said.

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) national coordinator Jayvee Garganera also condoled with the bereaved family of Ortega.

“We join the family of Ortega in mourning the death of another environmental advocate, a comrade in the fight against mining and corruption in the government,” Garganera said.

“Palawan is struggling against mining now and a lot of individuals and groups come together to openly expose the issues of mining there. Ortega may have been killed to silence the struggle against mining, but the fight will not end as long as mining companies are scattered in the Last Frontier—we will relentlessly fight and claim our right for land and a secure environment,” he said.

PHL all set for review of economic pact with Japan

MANILA and Tokyo are all set to meet next month for a comprehensive review of the Philippine-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (Pjepa).

(The pact used to be known as the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, or Jpepa.)

The government has already created an interagency team to prepare the Philippine panel.

Trade Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr. said the team is now assessing how the Pjepa can further improve and expand the country’s trade and investment relations with Japan .

The Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Customs, National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, along with the representatives from the private sector have set a series of preliminary meetings for the review and assessment of Jpepa.

“We are involving both the public and private stakeholders in assessing the preliminary impact of the Pjepa on trade and investments, as well as on movement of natural persons,” Cristobal said.

Pjepa went into force in December 2008; it is the most comprehensive bilateral economic agreement the Philippines has entered into with another country covering trade in goods and services, investments, and cooperation.

Edgardo Abon, chairman of the Tariff Commission, said while renegotiations might not take place at the general review set for the end of February, it is a good venue to clarify Pjepa provisions that the two parties may find to be ambiguous.

“We will identify areas of improvement, particularly in terms of the interpretation. There could be some provisions that were deliberately made ambiguous or else there would be no meeting of the minds. We will clarify them,” Abon told the BusinessMirror.

He said the Philippine legislature will be watching the Pjepa review keenly since some lawmakers believe Manila got the raw end of the deal here.

Abon said this will also be a good time to determine if Japan had, indeed, put in substantial amount of investments that would merit the dismantling of tariffs for key products like automotives under the agreement.

To date, Cristobal said statistics provide favorable positive results of Pjepa to the Philippines.

Philippine exports to Japan, for instance, attained high growth rates with the implementation of Pjepa, with semiconductors rising 126 percent, apparel and clothing accessories increasing 110.13 percent, and ceramic products jumping by 107.41 percent.

Also, data from the Board of Investments, Philippine Economic Zone Authority, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, and Clark Development Corp. showed a marked growth in Japanese foreign direct investments to the Philippines from P16 billion in 2008 to P70 billion in 2009, specifically in the areas of construction, finance, real estate, manufacturing, and transportation.

But another area of Philippine concern is the deal on the movement of natural persons, particularly with the low passing rate of Filipino nurses and caregivers in Japan.

Group warns vs ban on plastic

INSTEAD of banning the use of plastics that could displace about 175,000 workers, the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) is pushing for an improved waste collection and recycling system that it says will bring more economic benefits to the villages.

“What we need to do is to improve our waste-recovery and recycling programs from the barangay level up to the national government. In England, for example, they managed to put up the world’s largest recycling facility out of the proceeds from the sale of the recovered waste,” Jesus Arranza, FPI chairman, said.

He said local plastic makers are ready to buy the plastic waste so the concerned government units, especially the barangay, only need to come up with effective schemes in collecting these recyclable plastic materials.

“Aside from preventing the sewers from getting clogged, an improved waste-recovery and recycling program will also bring more economic benefits. The barangays and their communities will have additional earnings from the sale of the recovered plastics. Plastic makers will have ready inputs for production, which will help the country save on foreign currency, since less resins will be imported,” he said.

The municipality of Muntinlupa has already banned the use of plastics, a move that was even lauded by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. There were also proposals to impose additional levies on the use of plastics.

But Arranza said it is a wrong argument to say that plastics should be banned because the sewers are getting
clogged. “Plastics are not the problem but the waste-recovery and recycling system. That is the area where we should focus our attention on and not on the use of plastics per se.”

He said plastics are actually the better options, environmentally speaking, since plastic retains 100 percent of its energy. Plastics, he added, are also cheaper and more convenient to use.

“The local plastics industry also employs about 175,000 individuals so government units should think twice before coming up with regulations and laws that will jeopardize their livelihood. What needs to be done also is to have stricter implementation of pertinent laws and ordinances on antilittering and waste segregation,” he said.

Group assails ‘deplorable’ garbage situation

A WASTE and pollution watchdog on Wednesday expressed dismay over the deplorable garbage situation in the country. 

EcoWaste Coalition said the poor implementation of Republic Act 9003, otherwise known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, is to be blamed.

The law, signed on January 26, 2001, promised a healthy and sustainable environment, through segregation, recycling and composting to reduce waste.

“The 10-year-old law apparently has not developed into maturity despite its age, considering the garbage and waste crisis the country is in today.  What is very depressing is the utter lack of serious implementation of this law, as evidenced by the wanton violations of its major provisions everywhere,” veteran actor Roy Alvarez, president of EcoWaste, lamented.

Citing recent figures from the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), EcoWaste Coalition said despite the law’s mandate for the closure of all open dumps by February of 2004, recent data from the NSWMC shows that 790 open dumps still remain in operation.

The group added that while all controlled dumps should have been closed by February 2006, the NSWMC data still reveal that there are 382 controlled dumps still operating, or three more than the NSWMC’s 2009 data.

According to EcoWaste Coalition, the progress in putting up materials-recovery facilities (MRFs) is also slow. The group said there are only 6,957 MRFs to date, serving only 7,938 of the country’s more than 42,000 barangays.

Another major concern, the group stressed, is the unacceptable location of “sanitary” landfills in areas prohibited by law—notwithstanding objections by the affected communities—such as the San Mateo Landfill in Rizal, the Ternate Landfill on Mount Palay-Palay in Cavite, and the VGP Landfill in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

The group wants the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to look into the various violations committed by landfill operations and concerned authorities. 

EcoWaste also observed that explicit violations on specific prohibited acts such as  littering, open burning, open dumping, construction of dumps in environmentally critical areas, and the manufacture, distribution, use or importation of non-environmentally acceptable products and services, remain unchecked, if not ignored by those who are supposed to implement the law.

“Ten years should be enough to teach us vital lessons to learn from and to enable our waste management authorities from the national to the local level to finally let the law have its rightful way,” Alvarez maintained.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Environmental group proposes solutions for climate change challenges

The Save Sierra Madre Network (SSMN) suggested on Tuesday some solutions for climate change challenges facing the country.

SSMN said the massive flooding and landslides in different parts of the country focused the nation’s attention to the urgent need to address climate change due to global warming.

“The government is challenged by these calamities to a paradigm shift and redirect its strategy on development towards social, economic, and ecological sustainability,” SSMN said.

The group urgently asked President Benigno S. Aquino III to give top priority to the survival of the Filipino people by:

* Imposing a total commercial log ban in all natural forests; cancelling immediately all Integrated Forest Management Forest Agreements (IFMAs) in natural forests that have become facade for illegal logging.

* Issuing an Executive Order for the non-renewal and/or cancellation of the rest of the IFMAs in natural forests because of imminent public danger and certifying the urgency of passing a legislation related to this.

* Providing an alternative livelihood program for the small loggers and charcoal makers to liberate them from the clutches of their financiers and unscrupulous government officials.

* Implementing a massive and genuine reforestation program, through rain forestation which uses indigenous species, to combat the rapid denudation of the forests.

* Strengthening forest protection programs by providing sufficient funds to guarantee the presence of well-trained and equipped forest ranger units in critical areas to conduct monitoring and arrest illegal loggers.

* Ensuring the formation of multi-stakeholder partnership structures such as forest protection coordinating councils in every local government unit (LGU) with active participation from non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs), church, academe and other sectors in the planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation (PIME) of forest programs and other related initiatives.

* Cleaning up the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) of corrupt officials through an independent committee investigating the bureaucracy, so that it can be truly responsive to a just and sustainable development and use of the natural resources.

Shinobu Sakamoto ng Minamata, Japan

SA loob ng anim na payak na mga pangungusap at matinding kahirapan sa pagsasalita ay ipinarating ni Shinobu Sakamoto sa buong daigdig ang kanyang hiling:

“My name is Shinobu Sakamoto. I have a congenital Minamata disease. Minamata disease is not over. The Japanese government and people must learn more properly about the Minamata disease. Please make sure Minamata disease never happens again. Please create an ambitious treaty.”

Si Shinobu, 54, mula sa Minamata, Japan ay may malubhang sakit na lumitaw simula pa noong siya ay isilang dahil sa pagkakalantad sa asoge (mercury) habang siya ay nasa sinapupunan pa lamang ng kanyang butihing ina.

Binigkas niya ang kanyang madamdaming pakiusap sa pagbubukas noong Lunes, Enero 24, ng ikalawang Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC2) sa Chiba, Japan para himayin ang mga elemento na dapat ipaloob at palawigin sa isang pandaigdigang tratado na pupuksa sa polusyong dulot ng asoge.

Ang INC2 na matatapos sa Enero 28 ay nilalahukan ng daan-daang delegado mula sa mga gobyerno, mga ahensya ng United Nations, industriya at kalipunang sibil, kasama ang Kagawaran ng Kapaligiran at Likas na Yaman (DENR) at mga environmental NGOs tulad ng Ban Toxics, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives at Health Care Without Harm.

Si Shinobu ay isa sa may tinatayang 50,000 biktima ng pagkakalason sa asoge dahil sa kontaminadong basurang tubig na itinapon sa Minamata Bay ng Chisso Corporation noong 1950s . Bago ang pormal na pagkakilala sa “Minamata disease” noong Mayo 1, 1956 ay binansagan itong “cat dance disease” dahil sa sintomas na panginginig at pangingisay ng mga biktima.

Sa isang mas mahabang panayam noong Linggo ay ibinahagi ni Shinobu ang kanyang damdamin sa karamdamang pasan-pasan simula pa noong siya ay isinilang, ang naudlot na pangarap na maging kindergarten teacher, ang pagkalinga ng kanyang mapagmahal na ina na ngayon ay 80 taong gulang na at ang kanyang mga minimithi, kasama ang “group home” para sa mga kapwa niya biktima upang sila ay makapamuhay ng maaliwalas at may seguridad.

“Minamata has not ended. It’s not finished yet. Even today there are many patients having Minamata disease. New victims have emerged,” paalala ni Shinobu.

Ipinahayag rin niya ang kanyang hindi pagsang-ayon na ipangalan sa Minamata ang binabalangkas na tratado. “I’m against the idea of calling the treaty as Minamata Convention.”

Si Shinobu, kasama ang maraming grupo sa loob at labas ng Hapon, ay tutol sa panukala ng pamahalaang Hapon na tawagin ang tratado na “Minamata Convention” hanggang hindi pa nabibigyan ng makatarungang tugon ang mga lehitimong hinaing at pangangailangan ng mga biktima ng Minamata disease.

Ang panawagan na huwag kalimutan ang mga aral ng trahedyang Minamata ay sinambit rin ng iba pang biktima ng Minamata disease na nabigyan ng pagkakataon na magsalaysay sa harap ng mga delegado ng INC2.

Naroroon sa Chiba ang iba pang tinaguriang “storyteller” mula sa Minamata tulad ni Hajime Sugimoto na ang ina na isang “storyteller” rin ay binawiang ng buhay noong 2008, matapos ang matagal na pakikipaglaban sa Minamata disease. Ang ama, lolo at lola ni Hajime ay may Minamata disease.

Sa pamamagitan ng mga tinig nina Shinobu, Hajime at marami pang iba ay hindi mababaon na lamang sa limot ang trahedya ng Minamata at ang patuloy na pakikibaka ng mga biktima para mabuhay ng may dignidad at hustisya.

Ang kanilang imortal na kuwento ay patuloy na mabuhay nawa sa isip at puso ng lahat, laluna ng mga may direktong kinalaman sa pagbubuo ng pandaigdigang kasunduan laban sa asoge.

Nawa’y huwag nating ipagkanulo ang mga biktima ng polusyong asoge sa Minamata at sa iba pang Minamata sa Pilipinas at sa iba pang mga bansa at buuin ang pinakamabisa at pinakamakatarungang tratado na tunay na susugpo sa lasong asoge.

A waste-free festival

Colorful banderetas have dotted the streets in Cebu City, reminding everyone of its top crowd-drawer, the annual Sinulog festivities.

With two million people expected to converge in the city this week, the local government under the leadership of Mayor Mike Rama (his first Sinulog event as mayor, although he is a veteran in overseeing the annual celebration), the Sinulog foundation and partner establishments and institutions, are doing their utmost, like the ever-focused and determined ants, to ensure its success.

Well, how is “success” measured? That is another story, depending upon which particular stakeholder’s perspective is considered. For the environmental crusaders, success means a green festivity, with less pollution on land, air and water,and of course, an eco-mindful constituency, visitors and diligent environmental law enforcers.

We are inspired to see the high-impact steps a.k.a. the much-awaited show of political will now being done by the city government to implement R.A. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law. Mayor Rama exhorted the barangays to comply with their duties and has provided them with much-needed financial support and incentives such as shredders for biodegradable materials and even five environmental enforcers for each barangay.

For now, issues related to peace and order, traffic coordination, accommodation for out-of-towners and, never forget, the ubiquitous basura, are potential monstrous headaches which do not faze organizers. Residents in Metro Cebu also know better – important appointments, meetings and forums are all set after Sinulog.

Despite a full-packed schedule, Councilor Nida Cabrera shared with the listeners of dyRC’s “Hagit sa Kinaiyahan” last Saturday the various measures in place to make certain that tons of trash are well managed during and after the event. As the chairperson of the Sanggunian Panlungsod’s environment committee, Councilor Cabrera has the full support of Mayor Rama in the implementation of R.A. 9003. She definitely knows where she speaks. As “Kap” of Barangay Luz, she received for the people of the barangay the prestigious Galing Pook Award in 2009 for Participatory Environmental Management. To help manage anticipated inundation by more-than-the-usual rubbish this week, the city embarked on a partnership with the youth and the universities.

Is a waste-free Sinulog celebration or any festivity possible in the Republic of Plastic, I mean the Philippines? Well, hope springs eternal among determined dreamers. Yes, it is possible – but only if we care enough and have the will to make it happen.

It is certainly uplifting to see a growing number of stakeholders talking about sustainability and lessening carbon footprints. But more effort and action are necessary to increase the number of consumers who are conscious of their day-to-day choices in buying and handling stuff and packaging materials, especially those which harm the environment.

We take note of numerous countries and local authorities abroad already competing to change the behavior of consumers by taxing plastic bags. Positive effects in terms of drastic reduction in plastic bags usage, are evident.

It is important likewise that manufacturers integrate sustainability in their production and consider their product’s impact on the environment – from production to “disposal” phases. States have started to shift the burden on the manufacturers by imposing a take-back or buy-back policy or imposing tax for recycling of the manufactured goods.

While we laud the various initiatives to green the business community in Cebu with projects such as green-shopping bags, I reiterate the urgent need to list of the non-environmentally acceptable products (Neaps), a task given to the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) under RA 9003.

Because a sleeping giant named NSWMC has chosen not to call for public hearings among the stakeholders, RA 9003 has remained an empty law, specifically insofar as Neaps are concerned.

It is best for President Aquino, who is vocal about accountable and transparent governance, to look into the performance of the NSWMC and require the executive agencies concerned, especially the DENR, to explain why such public hearings and the Neap listing have not been done 10 years having already elapsed since the law’s was passed.

Which agencies should be held accountable? The government sector is represented by the principal environmental law enforcers, including the heads of the key executive agencies, as follows: (1) DENR, (2) Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), (3) Department of Science and Technology (DOST), (4) Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), (5) Department of Health (DOH), (6) Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), (7) Department of Agriculture (DA), (8) Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), (9) League of provincial governors, (10) League of city mayors, (11) League of municipal mayors, (12) Association of barangay councils, (13) Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and (14) Philippine Information Agency.

The private sector is represented by (a) a representative of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) whose principal purpose is to promote recycling and the protection of air and water quality, (b) a representative of the recycling industry and (c) a representative of the manufacturing or packaging industry.

Whys is NSWMC‘s performance substandard and worse, allowed to be so? Is there pressure from the potentially affected industries? Noted also is the exclusion from the body of the Department of Education and the youth, who are most affected by our throw away culture. With only one NGO representing the environment and people, how can our interest and that of Nature be adequately protected?

NSWMC, please do your job. Exhibit the overdue political will to declare certain forms of plastic and unfriendly materials as illegal contrabands. We will surely see a greener Philippines, and yes, more green festivities, with such a milestone.

Amid these challenges, we should press for a low-carbon lifestyle. The timeless passage in The Lorax of Dr. Seuss reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

10 years after passage of ecological solid waste management law, groups lament lack in its implementation

As the nation commemorates the 10th year anniversary of the signing into law of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or the Republic Act (RA) 9003, green groups belonging to waste watchdog EcoWaste Coalition expressed utter dismay over the increasingly deplorable garbage situation in the country and the law’s apparent lack of implementation despite its 10 years of existence.

“In commemoration of the signing of RA 9003 on 26 January a decade ago, we earnestly pray that concerned authorities would finally come to serious terms with the mandate of the law and keep the promise of a healthy and sustainable environment that the law is supposed to achieve,” said EcoWaste Coalition President, veteran actor and zero waste activist Roy Alvarez.

“The 10 year old law apparently has not developed into maturity despite its age, considering the garbage and waste crisis the country is in today,” lamented Alvarez.

“What is very depressing is the utter lack of serious implementation of this law, as evidenced by the wanton violations of its major provisions everywhere,” he added.

Citing recent figures from the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) website, the Coalition argued that:

· Despite the law’s mandate for the closure of all open dumps by February of 2004, recent data from the NSWMC shows 790 open dumps that remain in operation.

· While all controlled dumps should have been closed by February 2006, the NSWMC data still yield 382 controlled dumps, an increase of 3 from the Commission’s 2009 data.

· There is an apparent slow progress in putting-up materials recovery facilities or MRFs, which number only 6,957 and which serve only 7,938 of the country’s more than 42,000 barangays.

The Coalition also cited as a major concern the unacceptable location of “sanitary” landfills in areas prohibited by law, and notwithstanding objections by the affected communities, such as the San Mateo landfill in Marikina, the Ternate landfill in Mt. Palay-Palay in Cavite, and the VGP landfill in San Jose del Monte.

These, together with other violations such as the continuing disregard of the “residuals only” mandate for sanitary landfills in operation, prompted the EcoWaste Coalition to request the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, Ramon Paje, Jr., to conduct an investigation of the violations committed by landfill operators and authorities.

Moreover, the zero waste watchdog observed that explicit violations on specific prohibited acts such as littering, open burning, open dumping, construction of dumps in environmentally critical areas, and the manufacture, distribution, use or importation of non-environmentally acceptable products and services, have remained rampant and unchecked or simply ignored by those who are supposed to implement the law.

“Ten years should be enough to teach us vital lessons to learn from and to enable our waste management authorities from the national to the local level to finally let the law have its rightful way,” Alvarez maintained.

DENR orders closure of 29 dumps

CITY of San Fernando, Pampanga—On the order of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) in Central Luzon on Monday will close starting Jan. 27 the open or controlled dumps of 29 local governments in Bulacan and Pampanga.

In copies of notices of closure, DENR regional director Ricardo Calderon said the 29 local governments have failed to comply with Republic Act No. 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act).

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who now represents the second district of Pampanga in the House of Representatives, signed the law 10 years ago. The law prohibits open dumps.

EMB regional director Lormelyn Claudio said in a separate memorandum that the 29 local governments “failed to truly demonstrate the will to close the existing open and controlled dumps.”

Due for closure in Bulacan are dumps in Angat, Balagtas, Bocaue, Bulacan, Bustos, Hagonoy, Norzagaray, Pandi, Paombong, Pulilan, San Ildefonso, San Miguel and San Rafael.

In Pampanga, ordered closed were dumps in the cities of Angeles and San Fernando and the towns of Arayat, Floridablanca, Guagua, Mabalacat, Macabebe, Magalang, Masantol, Mexico, Minalin, Porac, San Luis, Sasmuan, Sta. Ana and Sto. Tomas.

Too long to wait

At least 361 local governments in the country have violated RA 9003, reports submitted by the National Solid Waste Management Council to the Office of the Ombudsman showed.

Many local governments in Central Luzon have resorted to disposing of various wastes in landfills operated by the Metro Clark Waste Management Corp. in Barangay Kalangitan in Capas, Tarlac, or in San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan.

“Ten years is too long [to be waiting for corrective measures],” Claudio said.

San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez said the city government was waiting for the initial operation of Biosphere, a private partner that converts garbage into energy source.

He said the structures and facilities have been built near the Lara dump. “Stored there now are residuals or remains of segregated garbage not convertible into organic or cash, which we will feed into the Biosphere facility,” he said.

The Mt. Pinatubo Emergency Project Management Office in Pampanga presented to Arroyo and Governor Lilia Pineda in December a copy of the “soft component” of the Pinatubo Urgent Mitigation Project III, a P4.698-billion set of antiflooding measures done mostly on a loan from the Japanese government.

‘Minamata’ tag for treaty nixed

THE proposal to name a global mercury-control treaty after Minamata—a serious and often deadly illness caused by exposure to methylmercury—has raised eyebrows among environmental groups, saying the tragedy must be properly addressed first by the Japanese government and Chisso Corp.

The disease had been so named because its first outbreak was found near Minamata Bay in Japan in 1959.

Seventy-five groups from 42 countries signed a statement of solidarity with Minamata victims, including environment groups from the Philippines, such as the waste-and-pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, Ang NARS, Arugaan, Ban Toxics, Cavite Green Coalition, Citizens Concerned with Advocating Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for the Development of Educational and Ecological Alternatives, Mother Earth Foundation and Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan.

They signed the Honoring Minamata Statement at the Makuhari Messe Conference Centre in Chiba, Japan, the site of the second negotiating meeting for the mercury-control treaty, in protest of the plan to name the global mercury treaty Minamata Convention.

The groups insisted that naming the global mercury-control treaty the Minamata Convention directly connects the treaty to the tragedy.

It will be recalled that in 2010, then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed naming the mercury-control treaty the Minamata Convention although the proposal was not discussed with Minamata groups before the announcement.

“We call on the government of Japan to make a public commitment to resolving the tragedy and to take concrete steps toward a genuine resolution of the tragedy before the treaty is finalized in 2013,” said Mariann Lloyd-Smith, International POPs Elimination Network (Ipen) cochairman. “After 55 years of struggling, we stand in solidarity with the Minamata victims’ groups in calling for a genuine resolution of the problem.”

Ipen is a global public-interest NGO network with more than 700 organizations in 100 countries in all regions. It collaborated to advance the common goal of creating a strong and effective global POPs treaty.

Earlier, the Minamata victims and supporter groups issued a statement expressing their opposition to naming the international treaty for the Minamata disaster before victims’ issues were resolved. The groups called for clarity on the full extent of the disaster, compensation for all victims, implementation of the “polluter pays” principle and full cleanup of the mercury contamination in Minamata Bay and Shiranui Sea.

Over the years, more victims have come out and now tens of thousands of people have reported being stricken with the disease.

Methylmercury entered the bay from the wastewater discharges of a plant owned by the Chisso Corp.

The plant produced the chemical acetaldehyde using a mercury-catalyzed process. Although the disease was first diagnosed in 1959, the Chisso plant continued discharging methylmercury into the bay through 1968.

Despite a public apology by Japanese Prime Minster Yukio Hatoyama in 2010 and a 2004 ruling by the Supreme Court of Japan that the government of Japan and the Kumamoto Prefecture were responsible for not preventing the spread of the disease after 1960, the vast majority of victims remain unrecognized and uncompensated.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Philippines city bans plastic bags

Muntinlupa City has become the first major urban centre in the country to ban the use of plastic bags and other non-biodegradable materials.

Just recently, the city, located in the southern fringes of Metro Manila, started implementing Ordinance Number 10-109.

The local edict prohibits establishments from using, offering or selling plastic bags as primary or secondary packing materials for dry goods, as well as for wet goods such as fish, meat and poultry.

The ordinance further bans polystyrene containers for foodstuffs, drinks and other goods. Likewise, it also imposes fines for violators ranging from P500 (Dh42) to P2,500 (Dh209) as well as imprisonment of not more than six months.

Business establishments found violating the law face having their licences to operate cancelled for up to one year. In passing the Ordinance, the Muntinlupa City Council noted that irresponsibly-disposed-of plastic bags and other non-biodegradable containers were the major causes of flash floods in the city during heavy rains as it clogged canals, creeks, rivers and other waterways.

Francis Tolentino chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority said lauded the city and its mayor, Aldrin San Pedro for initiating the "bold move for the sake of the environment".

Local environmental watchdog, the EcoWaste Coalition, similarly hailed the city council and the Mayor's move. "The Muntinlupa plastic ban offers a beacon of hope for our beleaguered environment that has long been suffering from white pollution," said veteran performing actor Roy Alvarez, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

Bold measure

"By insisting to enforce the ban, Muntinlupa will become an environmental leader among local government units with this bold measure to reduce plastic litter and promote ecological values," he emphasised.

Tolentino, for his part, added he would push for the adoption of this measure by the fifteen other cities and one municipality comprising Metropolitan Manila, and exhorted other mayors throughout the Philippines to do the same.

Prior to the ban on plastic bags and similarly non-biodegradable packaging by Muntinlupa City, certain commercial establishments in the Philippines encouraged customers to bring their on shopping bags or use re-usable baskets of containers made from biodegradable materials.

San Pedro said that 90 per cent of material which obstructed drains and waterways was plastic rubbish, which cost the city government millions of pesos for de-clogging operations.

City faces tough fight over plastics ban

TOTO, 34, tends to a patron’s order of a 12-ounce soda “to go” in a sari-sari store in Muntinlupa City. Like the past months, he pours the contents of the bottle into a plastic bag and hands it to the buyer.

Asked about a large tarpaulin sign plastered at a wall inside the store which reminded anyone on the prevailing ban on the use of plastics in the city, he smirked.

“I’d put that (soft drink) inside a paper bag and let’s see if you can drink it,” he said in a sarcastic tone. He declined to give his full name, saying the city government might come down hard on the store he was working for.

Landmark ordinance

On Tuesday, the city government began implementing a landmark ordinance banning the use of plastic bags and polystyrene items as packaging materials. The ban has earned cheers and jeers from environment groups and big business, respectively.

Touted as the first in Metro Manila, Ordinance 10-109 prohibits the use of plastic bags as packaging materials and as an alternative, the law fosters the use of environment-friendly bags like those made of recycled and reusable materials like cloth.

The ordinance, signed into law by Mayor Aldrin San Pedro last year, also bans the use of cups, boxes and plates made of polystyrene, more popularly known as styrofoam. It tasks the the city’s Environment Sanitation Center (ESC) to implement the law.

Mounting opposition

Not only does the city government face mounting opposition from industry groups, it also has to deal with a culture of throwing away trash.

In a recent interview, ESC chief Al Cosio admitted how tough it was to change people’s mindset on the use of plastics. The agency faced an uphill battle on Tuesday in patrolling the streets of Muntinlupa, with small business owners among the most stubborn of all, the official noted.

“Some want to play hard ball. We find it difficult to deal with market vendors and sari-sari store owners who claim ignorance of the law,” he said. “They still insist on using plastic bags.”

Two teams from the ESC now go around the city to observe the situation. In the coming weeks, the teams will go around barangays, he continued.

When Tropical Storm “Ondoy” lashed through Metro Manila in 2009, thousands of Muntinlupa residents left their homes for higher ground as floodwaters inundated the city’s streets. Figures from the city government showed about 3,500 families were displaced.

As the waters receded, city officials buckled down to work and traced the cause of the floods, the worst in recent memory. It did not take them long to find out.

Clogged waterways

Trash—tons of it—clogged waterways and drainage canals, with plastic bags containing residents’ refuse. Like a clot in the artery, plastic blocked the flow of water, which should have went straight to Laguna de Bay, instead spilling over the city’s streets.

The episode stamped an indelible mark on Muntinlupa residents, most especially government officials, Cosio explained. Hence, San Pedro asked the city council to create a law against the use of plastics and styrofoam, he said.

“But what if the government found out that it was paper that clogged the drains, instead of plastic? Would they ban the use of paper there?” said Crispian Lao, probably in half-jest.

For Lao, the president of the Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA), the problem wasn’t plastic bags. Rather, it was the people’s irresponsible disposal of their trash.

“Anything thrown indiscriminately would clog drains and waterways. The city government has to look into this because it is the root cause of the problem,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “This is a problem of the citizenry’s lack of discipline and poor implementation of antilittering laws.”

A week ago, the PPIA sent San Pedro the industry’s position into the matter, but apparently its views on the issue came a year too late. The mayor maintained that stakeholders were already consulted prior to the law’s passage.

The one-year moratorium was even done to give businesses in the city a grace period for the transition, Cosio explained. “But a year seems not enough.”

The industry position, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, focuses on two key arguments: The lack of a law created by the national government pertaining to the regulation of plastics use and the proper implementation of the solid waste management act.

Discipline is the problem

“Our advocacy is to help educate the people and recover [materials] for recycling to put it back into the production stream,” Lao continued. “The heart of the problem is discipline. We have to educate the people.”

In a separate letter, the Philippine Association of Supermarkets Inc. (Pasi) also pleaded with the city government to consider deferring the implementation of the ban, citing that paper bags were “five times more expensive” than plastic ones.

“The use of paper bags is impractical especially for our shoppers who rely on public transportation as their primary means of commuting because of the difficulty in carrying two or more paper bags especially when loaded with heavy products,” wrote Federico Ples, Pasi president.

Besides, there is such a thing as an oxo-biodegradable plastic which decomposes over time, so the local government should seriously consider this as an alternative, the group said.

Apart from the letters from the two groups, several more landed on the mayor’s desk. Similar requests made their way to Cosio’s office too.

“I don’t think there would be any compromise,” San Pedro said bluntly when asked about the chances the city government would budge. He said the year-long moratorium on the law’s implementation was “enough.”

“The one-year moratorium was already enough time for businesses to use all their plastic bags, and for industry to oppose the ordinance,” San Pedro told the Inquirer.

“As a component city, it is well within our powers to create laws within our territory. If they want to challenge it in the courts, they could do so,” he added.

Words of praise

On the other side of the fence, an environment advocacy group and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) have offered words of praise and encouragement to the city government for implementing the ban.

“We congratulate Mayor San Pedro and the city council for taking the lead into this initiative. We hope to this encourages other cities,” said Rey Panaligan, national coordinator of Ecowaste Coalition. He said the law wasn’t totally new in the Philippines as other cities and towns have similar measures being implemented.

The main issue the ban addresses was “cutting the volume of garbage being thrown away,” he explained. It was not in anyway a threat to businesses.

He also acknowledged the problem’s cultural dimension, as Lao noted it, although Panaligan stressed that “some plastic bags are designed for that purpose … which is single use.”

“The MMDA strongly encourages local government units to adopt similar strong measures such as these to combat the dangerous effects of environmental degradation which leads to massive flooding and climate change,” said Chair Francis Tolentino in a separate statement

Violators could be fined P500 on the first offense, P1,500 on the second offense, and P2,500 plus imprisonment for the owner and cancellation of his business permit for one year should the violation go the third time.

Cosio also gave a similar explanation, insisting that the ban was a pro-active approach of the local government to the burgeoning problem of waste disposal.

“We have to act now. Should we wait for another Ondoy to make the first move?” he said.

Plastic-less shopping

Muntinlupa started implementing the environmentally-conscious city ordinance banning plastic bags last Tuesday, Jan. 18. Under the ordinance, businesses are prohibited from using plastic bags to pack materials. This follows a similar law in Los Banos, Laguna, which is experiencing unparalleled success. In LB, everyone complies with it—from the Ministop outside the UP campus to market vendors selling dry and wet goods.

In Muntinlupa, big establishments are quick to support the move. Shopwise (a Rustan's supermarket) and Savemore (an SM supermarket) in Festival Supermall have recalled all their plastic bags and are using paper bags and boxes instead. Shoppers can also avail of reusable shopping bags for a small price and even get perks, like doubling of points, on their loyalty rewards cards.

The public is still finding it quite difficult to adjust as paper bags don't have handles for easy toting. Some customers are complaining that it's making their grocery-shopping harder while others come prepared by bringing their own plastic bags.

Environment groups are lauding the city's efforts to minimize plastic waste. The EcoWaste Coalition has publicly appealed to Muntinlupa's businesses and citizens to actively support and comply with the ban. Meanwhile, plastic manufacturers are calling on the city government to reconsider the ordinance and scrap it as it “will threaten the jobs of its 175,000 workforce.” The city, on the other hand, stands by its decision to enact the ordinance.

Consumers, small-time traders slam Munti plastics ban

Some shoppers and small-time traders are questioning Muntinlupa City’s ban on plastic bags and polystyrene packaging, saying large businesses are the ones really benefiting from the recently implemented ordinance.

Widow Rosemarie Perdon sells made coffee and cooked noodles at night outside the Muntinlupa City public market to support her three children. She said she is now considering becoming her neighbor’s laundrywoman because she can no longer keep up with the “high cost” of paper cups and plates she now has to use since the ban was implemented last Tuesday.

Showing her newly bought paper containers, Perdon said she used to buy Styrofoam cups for P17 to P20 per 50 pieces. Now, she has to shell out P60 pesos to buy the same number of paper-made containers.

“The huge difference in prices has even caused other vendors to quit business,” she further claimed, adding her market budget has spiked from P500 to P800.

A group of fish vendors who declined to be identified said they “lost a big portion of their earnings” due to the ban. “Our kids sell plastic bags every weekend for their pocket money during school days. But they were forced to stop because it’s no longer allowed and we do not like to be fined,” one woman vendor said.

Some shoppers said they will no longer patronize the malls and markets in Muntinlupa because they have to buy or provide cloth bags to carry the goods they purchase. They said the mall owners themselves have to provide alternatives to plastic bags, at no charge, to consumers.

“This does not even answer how we are going to transport the fish we buy. If you don’t use plastic bags for wet goods, what are you going to use? A bayong? It takes a lot of water to clean it, and that doesn’t make it environment-friendly. Why punish consumers who wish to buy fresh meat, poultry or fish?” a woman shopper said.

Another buyer asked who else would benefit from the citywide ban, aside from those selling “environment-friendly” bags.
Mayor Aldrin San Pedro said the local government is creating ways to provide cheaper bags for its residents - the Organisasyong Kababaihan ng Muntinlupa, an organization led by his wife, Leah, sells bayong made of water lilies for P50 to P60 each. He said the ordinance has provided jobs to unemployed women and funded the organization’s projects.

San Pedro belittled complaints that the ordinance would burden consumers.

“They can bring their own bags. They are not being obliged to purchase these products. I’m sure they have extra bags at home. This is a minor burden to consumers as compared to bad effects of plastic in the environment,” he said.

San Pedro debunked criticisms that the ordinance was pro-rich. “How can it be pro-rich when the victims of the floods are the poor and not those who live in Ayala Alabang? It’s the poor that we are protecting here,” he said

He also said when typhoon “Ondoy” inundated Metro Manila last year, eight of their barangays were submerged under floodwaters. The government, he said, had to shell out P2.3 million to declog drainage systems, waterways, and rivers – when the fund could have spent for pro-poor programs.

MMDA urges cities nationwide to adopt ban on plastic bags

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is urging local government units to adopt the ordinance initiated by Muntinlupa City against the use of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials by all business establishments as a sustainable solution to garbage and flooding woes.

“The MMDA strongly encourages local government units to adopt similar strong measures such as these to combat the dangerous effects of environmental degradation which leads to massive flooding and climate change,” said MMDA Chairman Francis N. Tolentino after commending Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro for initiating the ban on plastic in his city.

Tolentino said he would push for the implementation of this measure as a model ordinance to be adopted by the fifteen other cities and one municipality comprising Metro Manila.

He also exhorted other mayors throughout the Philippines to do the same.

Tolentino noted that the damage wrought by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 in Metro Manila and neighboring towns and cities reached up to $4 billion.

The government attributed the floods that accompanied the massive typhoon to the garbage that blocked natural and man-made drainage systems.

“The tragic loss of lives and loved ones is unquantifiable,” he said.

Last Tuesday the City of Muntinlupa started implementing Ordinance No. 10-109, otherwise known as “An ordinance prohibiting the use of plastic bags on dry goods, regulating its utilization on wet goods, and prohibiting the use of Styrofoam” in Muntinlupa City.

In passing the ordinance, the Muntinlupa City Council noted that disposed plastic bags and other non-biodegradable containers are the major causes of flash floods in the city during heavy rains as it clogged canals, three creeks, 11 rivers and other waterways that all drain into the Laguna Lake.

It is the first city in Metro Manila to ban the use of plastic bags for wet and dry goods and Styrofoam/ styrophor as food containers.

The Muntinlupa ordinance bans polystyrene containers, commonly known as “Styrofoam” or “Styropor” for foodstuffs, drinks and other goods. Violators will be meted a fine, while business establishments found violating the ordinance may have their licenses to operate cancelled for up to one year.

Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic with insulation properties and is used in all types of products such as beverage cups and food containers.

A 1986 US Environmental Protection Agency report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. The process of making polystyrene is reported to pollute the air and create large amounts of solid and liquid waste.

Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain, especially when heated in a microwave. These chemicals threaten human health and reproductive systems.

Polystyrene products are often dumped into the environment as litter which breaks up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems.

Pursue ‘green’ electoral reforms, Comelec chief urged

Environmental advocates called on the newly-appointed Comelec Chairman to include “green” electoral reforms in his promise of reorganization within the electoral body.

Environmental network EcoWaste Coalition, in a letter sent to the Comelec office, asked Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes to put a stop on political activities that pollute the environment.

The group expressed hope that a re-organized poll body under the new chairman will work not only for political rights but also for environmental rights of the people.

“We hope that the COMELEC, under your watch, will exercise effective leadership to protect not only the sanctity of the ballot, but also safeguard the environment from further degradation associated with political activities,” the letter read.

Signatories to the letter were environmental leaders from the Alaga Lahat, Angkan ng Mandirigma, Ang NARS, Buklod Tao, Cavite Green Coalition, Citizens Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Krusada sa Kalikasan, Miriam PEACE, Mother Earth Foundation, November 17 Movement, Philippine Earth Justice Center and Zero Waste Philippines.

Past elections have shown the failure of Comelec and local government units to strictly enforce electoral and environmental laws, the groups said.

They noted the rampant disregard of electoral and environmental laws during election period including widespread posting of campaign materials outside Comelec-designated areas and distribution of sample ballots on elections day.

The groups also called on the Comelec to promulgate the Implementing Rules and Regulations for sectoral representation at local legislative bodies as required by the Constitution and R.A. 7160.

“We hope that in 2013 elections, the mandate for sectoral representation for local lawmaking bodies will finally be made,” the groups emphasized.

They noted that the marginal sectors need a stronger voice in the local lawmaking councils as they are the first victims of environmental degradation.

Reaffirming their willingness to work with the electoral body to “green” the elections, the groups sent Brillantes a list of proposals that, if implemented, will “lead to an environmentally-responsible exercise of the people’s right of suffrage and authentic participatory governance through sectoral representation.”

Green elections

The newly appointed chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Sixto Brillantes Jr., must now be up to his neck in suggestions on how to refurbish the tainted image of the poll body.

While most of the proposals hurled at Brillantes are political in nature, the EcoWaste Coalition is urging him to pursue what environmental advocates call "green electoral reforms."

"In view of his promise to carry out massive reforms within the commission, we urge Chairman Brillantes to equally introduce changes that will 'green' and cut the wastefulness in future polls," said EcoWaste Coalition President Roy Alvarez.

Reckless political activities that waste resources and pollute the surroundings have to go, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

"Our monitoring of the 2007 and 2010 elections shows blatant breach of electoral, as well as health and environmental regulations traceable to the failure of Comelec, national agencies and local government units to enforce electoral and environmental laws," the coalition and its allies said in a letter to Brillantes.

Some of the typical environmental lapses noted in past elections, include: the uncontrolled plastering of campaign posters outside Comelec-designated areas, most notoriously on trees, electric posts and walls; the hanging of campaign flags, lanterns and streamers in streets and alleys; the display of "indirect" campaign-related banners such as graduation and fiesta "greetings" and announcements extolling the projects and achievements of politicians.

Other violations of environmental laws committed in connection with elections include the unregulated noise from mobile political propaganda and during campaign meetings; the rampant distribution and littering of sample ballots on election day; the open burning of campaign waste, which even Comelec offices practice despite the ban on burning under Republic Act 9003; and the failure to immediately remove campaign materials after the election period.

The groups also called Brillantes' attention to the Comelec's failure to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations for sectoral representation at local legislative bodies as required by the Constitution and the Local Government Code

"We hope that in 2013 elections, the mandate for sectoral representation for local lawmaking bodies will finally be made," the groups said.

Another Payatas dumpsite in the making

POLITICS are certainly not behind the looming tug of war between San Jose del Monte (Bulacan) Rep. Arthur Robes and Mayor Rey San Pedro who have been both credited for gearing the city towards progress and better quality of life for over 800, 000 residents and that’s according to the lawmaker who makes himself available unlike the latter who never responds from my calls aimed at clarifying things over a controversial landfill project that has become the bone of contention between the two close allies.

Robes in phone conversation regrets that he and San Pedro are heading on the warpath but it’s a thing that’s inevitable if he would only turn a deaf ear especially so when the interest of the people and the city is at stake. “I can assure the people of San Jose Del Monte that I’ll always be a constant partner of the city government but on one hand I’d be answerable to the constituents if I wouldn’t lift a finger on matters I believe flawed from the start like this landfill project.”

Having delivered a privilege speech in which he questions the way the city officials led by the mayor and members of the Sangguniang Panlunsod had allegedly connived to hastily approve a resolution endorsing and at the same time supporting the continued development and operation of the landfill in spite of strong objections from concerned sectors including the religious community as it’s built just 400 meters away from the water treatment plant of San Jose Del Monte Water District and the pipes of the La Mesa Dam Aqueducts.

The lawmaker has vowed to maximize his resources to get to the bottom of the landfill project, located at Manila Newtown Estate in Barangay Minuyan, that’s owned and operated by VG Puyat Group of Companies. Ironically, this firm owns a vast land in the city where San Pedro’s residence is built, Robes reveals.

The San Jose del Monte legislator wouldn’t want to imply that it’s connected or San Pedro is compelled to give in to the wishes of the landfill operator for obvious reason. “That’s why I had advised him long before to move out of the (Puyat) property so that his actions like this one wouldn’t be compromised apparently my effort is not good enough.”

He clarifies that he’s not against a sanitary landfill per se. In fact, Robes supports the original plan for such project designed to accommodate the city’s volume of garbage which only runs to around 50 tons daily. But he howls upon learning that the “connivance” between VG Puyat, city officials and other concerned entities like the Environment and Natural Resources office has allowed neighboring towns and Metro Manila to dump their wastes in the facility.

Since there’s clear support from San Pedro and council members, Robes says there’s no difficulty for the DENR regional office to issue two Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECC) on the landfill project in seven months which granted VG Puyat clearance to admit and process up to 200 metric tons of waste materials per day that’s in December 2008 and reclassified the same in July 2009 as a maximum-capacity Category 4 landfill designed to admit and process over 200 metric tons of waste materials per day in July 2009, meaning it’s just like the Payatas dumpsite in Quezon City.

If not stopped, Robes warns that the facility would pollute the environment and eventually affect the health of the people especially those living near the site. “Once dumped, waste materials permeate down through sub-surface water, hence, may contaminate the source of drinking water by some residents who rely on deep wells. During water run-offs, these wastes are carried down through streams, rivers and other low lying areas that will endanger both aquatic and human lives.”

Robes is hell-bent to hold responsible those behind the railroading of the project including the elective city officials who he says should demonstrate extra concern for the local folks and not for the interest of a private firm which will virtually transform the facility into a milking cow with a blessing from them.