Philippine basketball

Why can’t the Philippines solve its trash problem?

Vernise Tantuco
Seventeen years after its enactment, LGUs struggle to implement our solid waste management law


  • Despite strong environmental activism among Filipinos, the Philippines still suffers from a trash problem.
  • Data shows that local government units are struggling to implement the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000” or RA 9003 which was signed into law in 2001.
  • Seventeen years after the enactment of the law, 50 complaints were filed with the Office of the Ombudsman for non-compliance with the law.

Part 1 of 2

MANILA, Philippines – It’s an unfortunate but familiar sight: trash strewn all over Roxas Boulevard due to the southwest monsoon winds (hanging habagat) blowing them over from Manila Bay.

The bay itself is covered in trash after a storm. This happens annually, and nobody bats an eyelash when it does. Trash is part of life in the city, especially Metro Manila. (IN PHOTOS: The state of Manila Bay)

But the internet paints a different picture.

On the Facebook page Buhay Zero Waste, you’ll find posts about “eco-bricks”, shampoo bars, and mess kits – just a few of the tips and tricks their more than 24,000 members give and receive about how to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

From 2012 to 2017, the Philippines was consistently among the top participating countries in Ocean Conservatory’s International Coastal Cleanup. This is with the exception of 2016, when events in the Philippines were “canceled due to geopolitical circumstances.”

The table below shows the top 10 participating countries in the ICC from 2012 to 2017. Swipe left and right to see all columns.

The Philippines doesn’t have a shortage of waste management or ocean advocacy groups either – all it takes is a quick Google search to find them.

So when it comes to the trash along Manila Bay – and Philippine seas in general – what gives? (READ: The challenges of going zero waste in the Philippines)

Friends who have been swept up by the zero waste trend will tell you it’s just a matter of swapping plastic straws for your reusable metal one. It’s not a bad suggestion, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our trash problem.

According to Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar, the Philippines has a good solid waste management law, but a lot more can be done in terms of implementation.

RA 9003 or the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000” has provisions for solid waste reduction and avoidance through recycling, composting, and other methods before disposal in the appropriate facilities.

The law also created the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The NSWMC also includes the heads of 13 other government offices and 3 representatives from the private sector. The NSWMC did not respond to Rappler’s request for data.

When it comes to the Manila Bay watershed area, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has been monitoring the compliance of surrounding areas – regions III, IV-A, and NCR – with RA 9003, the Clean Water Act (RA 9275), and the Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279).

The data from their Manila Bay Clean-up, Rehabilitation, and Preservation Program annual reports from 2011 to 2017 show that despite the increase in establishments, factories, and homes that have adequate waste treatment facilities and septic tanks, there is also an increase annually in the number of structures that surround the Manila Bay Area.

Below is a comparison of the number of establishments, factories, and homes in the Manila Bay area that constructed wastewater treatment facilities or septic tanks following inspections from their respective local government units (LGU) over time. The DILG notes that LGUs encountered problems on data storage and retention, which led to the fluctuations in data from 2013 to 2015.




The DILG’s reports also show that there is a significant increase between 2011 and 2017 in the number of LGUs in the Manila Bay watershed that complied with solid waste management regulations, as prescribed by RA 9003.

However, out of the total 178 LGUs in the area, there are still 39.89% that don’t comply with the 10-year solid waste management plan, 27.53% that don’t comply with regulations for segregation at source, 23.03% that don’t comply with regulations on segregated collection, 44.38% that do not have a functional materials recovery facilities, and 10.11% that don’t have approved disposal facilities.


According to Aguilar, non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace, EcoWaste Coalition, The Gaia Foundation, Mother Earth Foundation, and Healthcare Without Harm have regularly engaged the NSWMC on the issue of non-compliance. 

The complaints haven’t gone unheard. In February 2016, Romeo Hidalgo of the Ecowaste Coalition and member of the NSWMC, filed 50 complaints at the Office of the Ombudsman, for non-compliance with RA 9003. As a result, close to 600 local government executives nationwide were investigated by the Ombudsman.

In a December 2016 report on, Environmental Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera said that they plan to file 100 complaints against 100 LGUs in 2017, based on a list given to them by the DENR.

All this over a law that was signed 17 years ago. –

TOP PHOTO: MANILA BAY. Kids from Baseco, Tondo play along the shore of Manila Bay in June 2018. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

To be concluded: 
Part 2: Stopping our plastic waste problem ‘at the source’

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Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.