"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.
Do you know that before Gawad Kalinga plots out its villages it secures a geo-hazard assessment from the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources? How environmentally responsible is that? I am sure that many of our houses and buildings don't have geo-hazard assessments. I fear, some of these structures are geo-hazards unto themselves, as when they are built on top of creeks. GK Founder Antonio Meloto spoke about this last Sunday at Joey Lina's show on DZMM Teleradyo. Mr. Meloto should handle the housing portfolio of the government.
"Useless frequent flyers," I delight in the eloquence! That's how Naderev Sano, member of the Philippine delegation to the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland, described this annual gathering, if nothing concrete is taken to mitigate climate change. Sano is not only a Filipino, he is from Tacloban, sadly caught in the crosshairs of Typhoon Yolanda's godless wrath. To drive his point, Sano even wept and announced a hunger strike. And for good reason: On the eve of Sano's speech, Sec. Lucille Sering of the Philippine Climate Change Commission (PCCC) expressed her view that Yolanda was stoked by climate change.
Sec. Lucille Sering of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, who heads our Warsaw delegation, recently shared that Typhoon Yolanda was strengthened by global warming. Because of global warming, there were more rains from above and storm surge from below. Yolanda was the perfect storm, egged on by global warming and climate change, courtesy of unmitigated carbon emission, the kind that is emitted when China manufactures and ships plastic bags and Styro food boxes to us.
On the heels of the devastation in the Visayas, I found myself between a rock and hard place. The hard place was seeing Filipinos desperate for food. The rock was watching food delivered, ever so slowly, in plastic bags and Styro boxes. I don’t want to be difficult and fault the generous souls who donated food. I can understand that all issues must take a back seat to self preservation. But we could have done better had Environment Sec. Ramon Paje banned plastic bags and Styro boxes a long time ago. Then we’d have environment-friendly, starch-based food boxes and plastic bags proliferating in Tacloban City instead, wouldn’t we?
This column comes to you a day late because Tuesday was Cinco de Noviembre, a provincial holiday that causes all my work to halt, including writing this column. The annual observance celebrates the Negros Republic and the heroes that led our island nation two centuries ago, namely, Gen. Aniceto Lacson and Gen. Juan Araneta. If I am not mistaken, we were the only province in the entire archipelago where Spanish forces surrendered to us, so don't mess with us. Too bad, the Americans soon came. With their BB guns we were frightened. With their boogie-woogie we were wooed. But, once upon a time, there was a Negros Republic. Come to think of it, if the Negros Republic was allowed to prosper, we would now have our own President and Environment Secretary, and we would have no problem with funding to educate our people on solid waste management. As it is, funding is controlled by Manila and the Environment Secretary is allowed to overspend on things meaningful only to him. He might as well go shopping.
Over the November 1 weekend, I learned that Roxas City has expanded its campaign to ban the use of plastic bags. Bravo! Apparently, their movement started in 2011, when plastic bags were banned on Mondays. Unlike big shot establishments like SM, Robinsons, and Metro who have plateaued in their quest to appear environmental, lip service really, Roxas City bettered its performance. Today, plastic bags are banned in Roxas City four days a week, MWThS I believe. And this is not just for show: The ban is felt in all levels of society, including wet markets and sari sari stores. I am impressed to learn that fast food companies in Roxas City even refrain from distributing plastic straws on these days. So, you see, policy-making and enforcement hold sway. If plastic bags continue to be banned in big shot supermarkets and department stores only once a week, that is not because shoppers are incorrigible (although maybe they are). But even if they are, if the stores make policies against the use of plastic bags and enforce the same, the ban will stick. Shoppers will simply adjust. Did the shoppers in Roxas City perish because they cannot use plastic bags four days a week? Did they cry like spoiled brats? In other parts of the country, the problem is, everyone is sitting and waiting. Supermarket and department store management are fearful that if they increase their plastic ban while their competitors don't, they will lose shoppers, on the premise that shoppers are hopelessly addicted to plastic bags. So, Roxas City gives us the perfect solution. If businesses cannot behave morally, they will have to be compelled by the local government. This way, the playing field is made level for all businesses. Congratulations Roxas City!
I made a mistake. In my last column I referred to the Environmental Ombudsman as Robert Mosquera. His correct first name is Gerard, Atty. Gerard A. Mosquera. My apologies, Sir.
EO Mosquera and his Technical Working Group have identified 100 priority cities and municipalities to guide into compliance with Republic Act 9003, our solid waste management (SWM) law. Bacolod City is one of them. As such, the city fulfilled a self-assessment survey on specific SWM matters to provide all stakeholders a leveling off point from where steps to compliance may be charted. The self-assessment was presented to the city's SWM Board last week, en route to submission to Mosquera. We look forward to begin our collaboration with the EO and his TWG.
"Mag pa-hamburjer ka naman," went the old joke addressed at one politician. Today that pales in comparison to the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources which offers five-course catered meals at its conferences. And so, DENR, "mag pa-cater ka naman." Rappler.com reported last week that the DENR, headed by Sec. Ramon Paje, spent P22.09 Million on meals in 2012. The Commission on Audit revealed that the DENR had a catering budget of P704,000 only. COA blamed the DENR for failing "to observe economy measures in the disbursements of food/catering services." Don't lose the sting in the translation. When you consider that the difference of P21.4 Million represents a 3,000% increment, then the overspending is suddenly and obviously brazen, calloused, arrogant, obstinate, and downright wicked. The barefaced wastefulness makes me vomit. COA noted that the DENR spent for breakfast even when meetings started after 9a.m., and morning snacks and lunch were ordered for meetings that began after 12 noon. Who are they kidding? Either the guests were "dead-hungry" or force-fed just so food is bought and somebody earns an extra buck. This is not farfetched. COA revealed that the DENR used "middlemen" to buy food from fastfood chains. DENR minions cannot buy the food themselves, they had to have middlemen? Whose husband was the middleman? DENR Chief of Staff Analiza Teh reasoned: "Minsan napipilitan gumamit ng middleman kapag, example, nag-allocate sila ng 100 tapos 'yung budget was for 100 then suddenly kinulang then they have to get more." But that does not answer the issue of the middleman, does it?
I'm not surprised that Pres. Aquino has denied that there is something the matter with Environment Sec. Ramon Paje. If the president can even deny mistakes in the distribution of relief goods to earthquake victims while the same victims are already feeding on fishkill, I guess he can deny anything, including the creation of the world.
In an Oct. 20 front page news item, Pres. Aquino dismissed rumors about a Cabinet shuffle. Of special mention was Sec. Paje of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources. The story reported that the president has no plans of canning Sec. Paje, and worse, the president hasn't even heard of complaints that would warrant canning Paje. Is the president blind? Halfway through his presidency and Sec. Paje has not implemented Republic Act 9003, our solid waste management law. Tell us, Mr. President, what is so terrific about mediocre performance? If the president cannot find anything wrong with Sec. Paje, he should at least tell us what's so right about him? Admittedly, in her nine years Gloria Arroyo failed to enforce R.A. 9003. But Arroyo never promised "matuwid na daan", Pres. Aquino did. And Sec. Paje failing to implement R.A. 9003 is no "matuwid na daan". What it is, is same dung, different day.
On Oct. 11 our city's Solid Waste Management Board, chaired by the new chief executive, Mayor Monico Puentevella, met for the first time. The Bacolod Anti-Baha Alliance has been given a seat in the board, and I have been asked to represent the group. This means I cannot be laidback. I carry the aspirations of the Anti-Baha, so I cannot choose not to be bothered by anything that sounds anathema to the goals of the Anti-Baha. I cannot look away when it is convenient and safe to look away. I have to ask.
And so I did. I asked why, on Oct. 2, Dynasty Agri-Aqua Corp., original owners of the city's sanitary landfill property, padlocked the gate to the facility. We were told, the city's solid waste management team was en route to the landfill to begin garbage segregation there when they were met with a padlocked gate. Isn't this what we have been pining for, that Bacolod will finally segregate its garbage? Why padlock the gate now? And since unmanaged garbage poses a threat to human health, indeed, why padlock the gate? Considering these alone, I moved for the SWM Board to formally protest the padlock so the city can take care of our garbage.
Sometime 2009, Dynasty sold seven hectares of land to the city of Bacolod for the purpose of creating a sanitary landfill. The purchase price was P23.8 Million. The city initially paid P20 Million with the balance of P3.8 Million to be paid at some future time. Dynasty notes, however, that the contract stipulates that the city has to pay in full within a period of one (1) year, or the contract is rescinded. That one-year leeway came and went without payment. Meanwhile, the city built a P33 Million sanitary landfill on the property, which was eventually inaugurated in April 2012. Along the way, COA threw in a monkey wrench. The Commission on Audit, in its usual "after-the-fact" assessment, waltzed into the picture ruling that the P23.8 Million property was overpriced by P5 Million. COA ordered a disallowance, the dreaded COA term for stop payment. Of course, Dynasty insists that the city pay up. And of course, Mayor Puentevella refuses because of the COA disallowance. And so, an impasse. Exercising what they believe to be their right under the contract, the leaders of Dynasty have since sued the city, asking that the contract be rescinded. If the court decides so, the city stands to lose the P20 Million payment it made for the land, plus the P33 Million it spent on the landfill. A bit much, don't you think?
I was recently shared a copy of Philippine Senate Resolution 95, dated 22 July 2013, and introduced by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Titled RESOLUTIONDIRECTING PROPER SENATE COMMITTEE TO CONDUCT AN INQUIRY, IN AID OFLEGISLATION, ON THE FORMULATION OF PROACTIVE AND SUSTAINABLESOLUTIONS TO THE COUNTRY’S GARBAGE WOES, here it is in full:
"WHEREAS, the Constitution, Article 2, Section 16 provides that "The State shall protectand advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with therhythm and harmony of nature";
"WHEREAS, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, in its declaration ofpolicies provides that: "The State [shall] adopt a systematic, comprehensive and ecological solidwaste management program which shall (a) Ensure the protection of the public health andenvironment; (b) Utilize environmentally-sound methods that maximize the utilization of valuable resources and encourage resource conservation and recovery" among others;
"WHEREAS, according to news reports, environmental groups have challenged theDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources to prepare an ecological solid wastemanagement plan that should lay emphasis on community education and implementation ofproactive waste prevention through the establishment of people-driven ecology centers ormaterials recovery facilities;
"WHEREAS, the group expressed the concern over the tendency of some governmentofficials to equate dump closure with the setting up of landfills, or "glorified dumps," andrepackaged waste burners;