Negros Occidental

Negros Occidental townsfolk sound alarm over river stench, seek probe

Reymund Titong

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Negros Occidental townsfolk sound alarm over river stench, seek probe

ESTUARY. Residents cross the estuary of the Binalbagan River aboard a boat.

Reymund Titong/Rappler

A group of residents blame the river pollution on a sugar company, an accusation the firm strongly denies

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Residents called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to look into the water quality of a river in Binalbagan town, Negros Occidental, because the stench emanating from it has been affecting at least four villages.

Fisherman Salvador Bayona, speaking on behalf of the residents of Barangay Canmuros, told Rappler on Wednesday, March 27, that they have been enduring the foul odor and murky water of the Binalbagan River since late 2023. 

Bayona and his group blamed the situation on the alleged release of wastewater from the Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company (BISCOM) into the river, an accusation the company strongly denied.

Adult, Male, Man
CONCERN. Fisherman Salvador Bayona, speaking for villagers, expresses concern about the water quality of the Binalbagan River in Negros Occidental. Reymund Titong/Rappler

He said the situation has already adversely affected even their livelihood, especially families who depend on river fishing.

Bayona also appealed for the intervention of Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, saying he and other residents were worried about the river’s biodiversity.

He said the river stench has affected the villages of Marina, San Juan, Progreso, and Canmuros. Binalbagan town is approximately 62 kilometers south of Bacolod City.

One of the villages, Canmuros, is home to the Mangrove Eco Park and Wild Life Sanctuary, which is a protected area dedicated to the conservation and protection of the town’s flora and fauna.

Bayona said the pollution has been posing health risks and aggravated the conditions of residents with underlying respiratory conditions.

Even before the situation worsened in late 2023, however, residents had been raising concerns about the river pollution for at least a decade, but the villagers’ pleas fell on deaf ears, he said.

“Gusto namon patas nga mag imbestigar sa kalidad sang tubig namon sa suba. Indi na ini insakto nga daw ginabaliwala lang ang amon concerns kay pigado kami…. Malaka diri sa amon ya ang ga ubra sa mga opisina, kag pangisda lang ang amon gina-saligan diri adlaw-adlaw. Kun madula pa ini, ano nalang kami,” he said.

(We want a fair investigation into the water quality of our river. It is unjust that our concerns are being overlooked just because we are poor…. In our community, it is uncommon to find people working in an office. Fishing is our primary source of daily income here. If this disappears, what will happen to us?)

BISCOM, for its part, asserted that it “is fully compliant” with all the rules set by the government and secured permits required by the DENR and other government agencies even “before the start of our operation.”

In a statement, BISCOM also assured the public that “our company is discharging zero waste to the water.”

The firm said there were other factors to consider, including the poultry and swine farms close to the river.

Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer Kenny Zamora said the El Niño phenomenon, causing a lack of rain, was another contributing factor. He explained that the dry conditions resulted in reduced water flow upstream, preventing a fresh and stronger current from reaching the ocean.

Zamora said the Kabankalan City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) tested the river’s water last year, and they were waiting for the release of the results. Only then, he said, can they reach a conclusion needed to put in place measures.

Bayona’s group, however, criticized the MENRO for failing to promptly act on their complaints.

“Always mana nila nga hambal, pero tapos sina, wala mana sila gihapon ubrahon (It is their usual statement, but after that, they will not act on it),” Bayona said. –

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