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MANILA, Philippines – On the 14th birthday of the country's garbage management law, Senator Loren Legarda vowed to block any moves in the Senate to lift the country's ban on waste incineration.
"As long as I am the Environment Committee Chairman, any law that allows incineration will not pass in the Senate," she said in a statement on Wednesday, January 7.
Her statement comes amidst moves by local government units, lawmakers, and government agencies to pass a bill that would allow the burning of garbage, seen by some as the solution to the increasingly unmanageable garbage problem in Philippine cities.
Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice, the principal author of the proposed bill, has called the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, principally authored by Legarda, as "problematic," citing the low compliance of LGUs.
According to the National Economic and Development Authority, only 414 of the 1,610 LGUs nationwide have complied with the national solid waste management plan which requires garbage segregation at source, recycling, and the establishment of Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in every village.
In Metro Manila, only 9 out of the 17 cities and towns are compliant.
Legarda countered that this does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with the law itself.
"This law, let's give it a chance to work, because only 25% of LGUs are compliant. If the 25% can implement it, why can't the 75% others?" she said in a news conference.
She cited examples such as San Fernando City in Pampanga, which is able to reuse, recycle, or compost 73% of its garbage. (READ: Garbage law impossible to implement? Look at San Fernando)
Following the Solid Waste Management Act has also saved the city millions of pesos.
Because it has less garbage that needs to be transported to landfills, the city was able to allot only P12 million (US$270,000) to garbage management, said the city's environment and natural resources officer Anele David. The city used to spend P70 million ($1.5 million) a year to pay more trucks to haul their trash.
In comparison, Quezon City spent almost a billion pesos in 2013 to manage its waste. Despite initiatives to require residents to segregate their trash from their houses, much of the city's waste still ends up in the landfill. (READ: QC wastes P250M yearly with flawed garbage program)
There are other shining examples of sustainable garbage management in the country, according to green group Mother Earth Foundation.
These include Alaminos, Pangasinan; Nueva Vizcaya; Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City; and Malabon City, said MEF President Froilan Grate.
If indeed the law needs to be fixed, Legarda posed a challenge.
"To those who don't believe in the law, my challenge is, file an amendatory version and let's discuss it and amend it. In the meantime, allow it to be implemented like the 25% others do."
Environmentalists have voiced their vehement opposition to moves to lift the incineration ban, calling it a "quick fix" that would bring about a host of problems.
They say incineration is likely to worsen air quality and increase the likelihood of health impacts and contamination from toxics that are a by-product of the process.
But Erice, backed by government agencies like the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and Quezon City government, says burning trash is the only concrete solution to getting rid of the increasing amount of garbage in cities.
The DENR has also given assurances that there is available technology to properly monitor the toxics emitted by burning technology. Incineration facilities would be strictly regulated to ensure minimum release of harmful chemicals, said Erice.
Green group EcoWaste Coalition called on the public and the government to take the goal of zero waste seriously.
January, as proclaimed by President Benigno Aquino III in 2014, is National Zero Waste Month. It was the month when his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, signed the Solid Waste Management Act into law 14 years ago.
EcoWaste Coalition president Von Hernandez, said, "Our vision of a zero waste society is possible, but without political will at the national and local levels, this will become another empty government slogan." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.