Negros Occidental

Residents lament ‘worse than ever’ river stench in Negros Occidental town

Reymund Titong

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Residents lament ‘worse than ever’ river stench in Negros Occidental town

BINALBAGAN RIVER. A portion of the Binalbagan River in Negros.Occidental.

Reymund Titong

Binalbagan's Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office says it will look into the residents' complaints to determine the cause of the problem

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Residents living close to a riverbank in Purok Acacia, Barangay Marina in Binalbagan town, Negros Occidental, are complaining about the murky color and “worse than ever” stench of their river which has reportedly caused health problems among some members of their community.

Residents alleged that this is due to wastewater released by the Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company (BISCOM), which categorically denied the claim.

Lola Cory (not her real name), 86, told Rappler on Saturday, March 9, that the river’s murky color and bad odor initially surfaced in December 2023, but at that time, the stench faded away days after.

It is not a surprise for the community to experience this, especially when the milling season starts. But the current stench had been described as “worse than ever,” she said. 

“Indi kami ka ginhawa sang baho. Bisan magface mask ka, ga sungaw gyapon kay ang baho, indi ma agwanta. Kun mag labay ka sa taytay, ga panabon ka sang tualya, indi ka kaginhawa kag makita mo nga ga bukal gid ang tubig nga ka itom,” Cory told Rappler. 

(The stench is making it hard for us to breathe. Even if we wear a face mask, the smell seeps in. We try to cover our noses with a towel when we cross the bridge, but the stench is too strong and you can see the murky water bubbling in the river.)

Cory said the odor becomes especially unbearable during daytime as high tide approaches, and sometimes at night.

A mother in her early 40s, who has three asthmatic children, said they experience difficulty breathing and stomach aches when the foul smell pops up.

“Kalabanan diri sa amon sa pag start sang galing, ga sakit ang ila tiyan pati iya sang mga kabataan,” she said. 

(Most of us here, after the start of the milling season, suffered from stomach aches, including the children.)

BISCOM responds

BISCOM is a sugar mill district for the towns of Binalbagan, Hinigaran, Moises Padilla, and Isabela; and the city of Himamaylan, which processes a total sugarcane area of 28,725 hectares. It is owned by a singer and businessman Jose Mari Chan. 

In a statement sent to Rappler, BISCOM refuted allegations that the company is responsible for the murky and foul-smelling water of the Binalbagan River.

“BISCOM is fully compliant with all the permits required by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other government agencies before the start of our operation and assure the public that our company is discharging zero waste to the water,” the company said.

“We also have a functional water treatment facility. And as a company that supports efforts to preserve the environment, we can’t break any environmental laws or regulations, especially if it poses a negative impact on the lives of residents living close to our milling company,” BISCOM added.

The company said that there may be other factors that need to be considered in relation to the river’s current condition, including the existence of chicken farms close to the river, and the scarcity of water from the town’s upland villages and neighboring towns.

Next steps

Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer Kenny Zamora told Rappler that one factor contributing to the worsening of the foul odor is the drought or lack of rain, which prevents a fresh current of water from the upstream areas to the river and into the ocean.

Zamora said that they will convene with different agencies of the town to discuss the complaints and for them to draft steps on how to prevent such case again in the future, especially as it has affected three additional villages: barangays Canmuros, San Juan, and Progreso.

Canmuros is one of the coastal villages of Binalbagan town and is the home to the Mangrove Eco Park and Wild Life Sanctuary, which covers a 200-hectare land area for the conservation and protection of the town’s floral and fauna.

On residents’ claim that they had documented instances of fish kill every year, Zamora said, “Regarding the claims made by the residents regarding fish kills, we are unable to verify them because the fishermen did not file official complaints with our office, which would have allowed us to look into the circumstances surrounding the purported fish kills in the area.”

Zamora said that that the alleged waste pollution in the river, if confirmed, “threatens the biodiversity in our coastal area, which could lead to a decline in fisheries catch and negatively impact residents who depend on fishing for a living” and would also affect the marine protected area.

He said that the Department of Natural Resources and Environment-City Environment and Natural Resources Office (DENR-CENRO) in Kabankalan is the one responsible for water sample analysis. “We are requesting the results of the water tests conducted last year,” he said.

“As to our next steps, we will take action by convening with the sugar company regarding the reports, including what specific chemicals are included in their waste allegedly released into the river, and assess its impact on the health of the residents together with our MHO as well as its impact to the marine animals,” Zamora added.

He also reiterated that before concluding that BISCOM is at fault, MENRO will first ask the CENRO for the results of the water evaluation. They are also going to identify the specific chemicals present in the water that cause an stinky odor and endanger marine life.

“Upon receiving the data, we will look into the results and from there, we will check if it was really the company that is liable to what happened to our river,” Zamora said. 

Youth advocate and DENR’s Tayo ang Kalikasan (TAK) Environment ambassador Aldin Yanos expressed concern over the development, noting the threat not only to the health of the residents living close to the river but also the health of the biodiversity in the sanctuary. 

“As climate change worsens, big businesses that recklessly endanger the environment should be held responsible, and appropriate measures should be implemented by various government agencies to control water pollution, which in turn would later lead to the loss of the biodiversity in the affected communities,” he told Rappler. –

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