I cannot find the exact English word for "sayang". Now more than ever, I find it "sayang-na-sayang" that Jesse Robredo, the late Secretary of the Dept. of Interior and Local Government (DILG), left us so untimely. Taking off from my column last week, which pitched for the inclusion of Dept. of Education (DepEd) Sec. Armin Luistro in the National Solid Waste Management Commission, I researched for back issue news covering the participation of other departments in the NSWMC and in the over-all work of the national government to implement Republic Act 9003, our solid waste management law. I wanted to check if progress has been made in that area. Alas, the news items are few and far between, hinting at scant cooperation despite the fact that cooperation among cabinet members, through the NSWMC, is legislated. But of the few and far between, I was knocked off my feet by one involving Sec. Robredo. We all know how effective Jesse Robredo was as an executive, a no-nonsense guy who did root-cause analyses of problems so he can provide permanent solutions, basically what an intelligent person does, if you ask me. Robredo was consistent in that quality, on any issue, including garbage. A 2011 news item posted on TV5's InterAksyon.com quoted him to have said this of the failure of cities to put up sanitary landfills: "It's not workable. When you talk of scale and technical feasibility, it is really impractical." I take Robredo to mean that a landfill is too expensive for each city or town to build. Instead, Robredo suggested, it is more practical to build a landfill in every district, to be shared by a cluster of cities and towns. Another intelligent person, Sen. Cynthia Villar, has done something similar in Las Piñas, where the Villar Foundation has put up several recycling and composting centers, each one shared by a cluster of barangays, because it is financially efficient that way. That's the kind of pragmatic thinking we need, the kind that can only come from being on the ground, not floating in lala-land, nebulous and pointless and so full of useless publicity fluff.
Fracking is booming in Louisiana. Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock. In simple terms, the process requires three competencies: seismic imaging techniques, horizontal drilling, and cracking shale rocks to release natural gas. The shale gas is then liquefied for transport. A leading producer of shale gas is Shell. Apparently, the global demand for liquefied natural gas has suddenly gone through the roof that a plant and terminal in Louisiana, originally built to receive imported LNG, have been refitted to export LNG instead. The first contract for export is to Britain in 2015, and other shale rock deposits are quickly being identified for the digging, the next one being in Texas. While the debate on whether natural gas is renewable or not ensues, we should nevertheless be thankful for this development as natural gas is far healthier than coal, for both earth and earthlings. I just hope that we police development against shortcuts. In countries already known for natural gas resources, and where fracking could mean more revenue, competencies must first be in place to prevent unnecessary destruction. For instance, seismic imaging techniques, no doubt expensive, must be in place. I shudder at the thought that massive diggings downwards and now, sideward too, could cause plates to move. In this earthquake belt, that's not totally impossible.
I know this is an advocacy column, but allow me this one paragraph to go off track because I'm sick of this worst airport rating we keep on getting. After being picked worst by sleepinginairports.com we're now rated eighth worst by the Wall Street Cheat Sheet. Really, how many times do intelligent people have to be told? It's as if, our international airports are the biggest solid waste we need to manage. It doesn't matter that I don't know these rating companies, if at all they're legit, they are getting good media and we're getting a bad rap. My suggestion to our airport authorities is this, fix the situation fast. It can be done. Take a lesson from Faro Airport in Portugal, rated Europe's worst in 2011, but off the worst list by 2012. They didn't ignore or deny their problem. They faced it, got to the root causes, and solved it. In just one year.
Quezon City has passed an ordinance imposing a garbage collection fee to its citizens. While some residents object, the fee is actually minimal, as low as P100 per year. QC’s annual garbage collection budget now stands at P1.1 Billion. Meanwhile, the additional fee will raise some P50 Million. City hall officials highlight the huge difference to quell suspicion that the local government is making a killing. But this only leads citizens to argue the logic of the ordinance. As I do: It’s too little to make a dent on the budgeted collection expense, and also too little for citizens to bother taking care of their garbage to avoid the charge completely. What for charge? In a TV interview last week, QC Mayor Herbert Bautista said that the P50 Million will fund environment-related projects. Like what? He cannot put his finger on any. And so the illogic grows: The ordinance will raise an insufficient amount that will only hold city hall suspect. Why risk reputation for "petty cash"?
AMPLE WARNING. The 350-member lawyers which include even magistrates and lawyers from all over the country, have served ample warning to human rights violators primarily the military and police that because it is already warranted it will, to its best, no longer tolerate human rights abuses of all types, to include torture both physical and psychological, and cases of disappearance committed by state forces.
There are in fact national laws to this effect and on the part of demolition of urban poor houses, ordinances based on national laws to this effect.
But even when prohibited, the military and police, even the country’s traditional prosecution albeit, judiciary system, has tolerated human rights abuses even when the former dictatorships under the authoritarian Marcos regime was in power for many, many long years.
It's about time the solid waste management advocacy is given real hope. I am excited that as 2014 begins, Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella has put SWM front and center of his agenda. But I'm sure this time we are not going to do things in haste. There is a need to rush, that's obvious, but we don't have to be rash, jumping into programs without thinking them through. We want real successes, not photo ops. We want palpable change, not lip service. And by this I mean, we have to devote time and resources to studying solid waste management. Admit it, we the people do not know how to segregate our trash. And our local government has not yet embarked on a sustained SWM educational effort, the kind that seeps into the bellies of barangays and sticks in the hearts and minds of community-loving citizens. And while education can be lengthy, we can jumpstart with the essentials. For instance, right away we can cluster barangays by location, because location determines the character of the garbage. Coastal barangays will have shellfish trash, while inland barangays will have sugarcane trash. These require different ways of management. Both may be recycled into organic fertilizer, but the process will differ. And whatever equipment and facilities are needed for each should be in place before we enforce segregation. This way, the effort of the people to segregate trash will not be frustrated. How many times have I heard households claim the excuse that they don't segregate because the garbage collector will just mix them anyway? If that is true, it can only be because the garbage collector does not know where to bring the segregated trash, because there is nowhere else to bring them but the open dump where, for sure, they will end up mixed. When we begin garbage segregation, we must have a place to bring and process shellfish trash from coastal barangays, and another place to bring and process sugarcane trash from inland barangays. As much as the garbage collector should know where to bring the tin cans, the aluminum cans, the plastic bottles, the real bottles, the horrible plastic bags, etcetera, so these may be processed properly, whether for re-use or for recycling. In other words, our SWM must be a closed loop process. It must be complete. It is not enough that we demand garbage segregation. It is not even enough that we collect segregated trash. We must be prepared to do what needs to be done with all that segregated trash the moment they land in government hands. Only then can we suggest "no segregation, no collection" rules because then we know for sure that segregation is a doable alternative.
Over the weekend The Huffington Post shared that for the first time in 112 years, snow fell on Cairo, a city that takes less than an inch of rain yearly. Then on Monday Aljazeera posted that snow fell in two towns in northern Vietnam, a first in five years, but more freaky because it is the dry season. And then on Facebook, there are the snow-covered photos of friends in the States. To think that in the 80s we had to wish for a White Christmas. I actually caught myself laughing at NFL players dashing through the snow at the end zone. Unusual snow in Cairo and Vietnam, and unusually thick snow in the States point to the might and menace of climate change.
As if to commiserate, over the weekend I watched the computer animated Disney film, Frozen. And now in hindsight, I cannot help but connect the message of the movie to all the snow that's happening around us, and to climate change that we're slowly seeing, feeling up close and personal. In the movie, Queen Elsa of Arendelle is cursed with the power to create snow and ice, but which she cannot control when enraged (exactly like climate change). One day Elsa's power goes haywire, freezing the entire kingdom of Arendelle. The queen flees, fearing her curse could do more harm. Her younger sister, Princess Anna, searches far and wide for Elsa to convince her to come home. In the process of evading Anna's pursuit, Queen Elsa accidentally injures the princess' heart, and only an "act of true love" can now save the life of Anna and end the freeze over Arendelle. The ailing Princess Anna is rushed back to Arendelle where a love interest, Prince Hans, holds court. A kiss from the prince-lover could provide just the needed "act of true love". Alas, the prince is scheming, and actually has his eyes set on grabbing power from Queen Elsa. As Hans aims to assassinate the queen, Anna throws herself in harm's way, taking the bullet for her sister Elsa, so to speak. That becomes the "act of true love". Princess Anna is restored to health and the freeze over Arendelle melts away.
"Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. I don't care if I never get back. Let me root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win, it's a shame. For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old ball game."
This is the chorus of the popular song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". Created in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, the song is usually sung at the seventh-inning stretch of baseball matches in the U.S. (considered the half-time break). In view of recent news reports, I take creative liberty to reword the chorus for Ramon Paje, the intended Secretary of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Here goes:
"Take me out to the Senate. Take me out with the trash. Buy me some plastics and styrofoam. I don't care if I'm never confirmed. Let me boot, boot, boot the environment. If it's destroyed, it's a shame. For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old DENR."
I can’t stop talking about them, like rags-to-riches stories, but these used plastic cups and bottles have been transformed into raw materials for Christmas parols. We are excited to know that the Industrial Design students of La Consolacion College-Bacolod are getting more orders for their Christmas decorations made from recycled garbage. A month previous we commissioned the students to create these parols, and two Saturdays ago we officially lit them at the Negros Farmers Weekend Market with Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella and First Lady Paching. The Mayor, meanwhile, believing in the intrinsic value of what we’re doing, also purchased the same parols for the city’s public plaza. And as pictures of these parols surfaced on Facebook, it was obvious that we have made a political statement against throw-away plastic containers, and that we have brought the campaign to the awareness of millions of Bacolod folk who, heretofore, were indifferent to the issue, or simply uninformed. And we have only received positive feedback. Not once did someone say that these parols are ugly. Everyone oohed and ahhed, if not for the aesthetics, certainly for the noble intention.
Before that…I read in the papers yesterday that our country's Climate Change Commission (CCC) recently held a climate change summit at the SMX in Pasay City. Really? How I wish we in the provinces are invited to such meetings, or at least informed about them, after all, we in the provinces, especially the Visayan ISLAND provinces, are most vulnerable to climate change. If our islands are one land mass like Luzon, I'm sure Yolanda would have had a tougher time killing us off. But since we are ISLANDS, storm surge had a field day. That we didn't know about the summit makes me suspect that all government howling about Yolanda's wreck is hollow yak. I wonder, who can attend a "summit" on climate change. Are likely victims insignificant to win a seat at the table? And whose job is it to tell the public about such summits before the fact? The DENR's? The CCC's? After it turned up empty handed from the recent U.N. convention on climate change in Warsaw, the CCC should know that it needs help, that perhaps it might learn something from probinsyanos who, after all, are the most threatened. In Warsaw, let us recall, the Philippine delegation was one of 132 that walked out after developed countries thumbed their noses at a provocative, if not cocky suggestion that big countries compensate small countries affected by climate change. Logical, but cocky. You actually expect America, Canada, and Japan to agree to that, when they reneged on their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and we couldn't do anything about it? The only thing that we accomplished by walking out of the Warsaw convention was isolate the big guys, they who have everything we need. There is no substitute to staying on the table and negotiating for a joint agreement. Avoidance, which is what walking out is all about, is the poorest of all negotiations techniques.