Something Smells

Please visit the official website of Cong. Albee Benitez for more updated news and photos.

Finally

I sit in the Bacolod City Solid Waste Management Board in behalf of the Bacolod Anti-Baha Alliance, an NGO, and representing the private sector. I am relieved to share here that our SWM board finally submitted to the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources our 10-year solid waste management plan. This is our city's first such plan, 13 years after the national garbage law, R.A. 9003, was passed. For this landmark achievement, I congratulate our hard-working board, headed by Mayor Monico Puentevella and City Administrator Rolando Villamor. I especially applaud our Technical Working Group, headed by Executive Assistant Ma. Fe Trespuentes, for painstakingly putting the plan together. The TWG is made up of members of our SWM board who are working at city hall, such as department heads, to ensure accountability. And that is a good thing.

Greening of MassKara

As you may know (may, because some of our readers living abroad may not know), since Oct. 1, and especially last week, we celebrated the MassKara Festival here in Bacolod. It was, for me, the best MassKara ever, for sundry reasons. But one reason that left me delighted long after the merrymaking was over, was the fact that this year, the environment was included, as opposed to ignored.

On Oct. 4 Mayor Monico Puentevella joined Gawad Kalinga in launching a “bayanihan” project called “Buligay”, designed for private citizens and organizations to do their share in uplifting the lives of the less fortunate in barangays. I wrote about this two weeks ago, so please refer to that piece by accessing the official website of the Negros Daily Bulletin, the newspaper that carries my column. Let me just underscore that one important mission area of “Buligay” is to teach residents in barangays how to segregate trash. Deputized to accomplish the gargantuan task are GK’s volunteer students who will be trained by the Bacolod Anti-Baha Alliance education team. Since the launch of the program, we in the Anti-Baha have met with Bobby Magalona, head of GK Negros. So, that was not photo-op at all. We’re moving on.

Buligay

Before that, I congratulate the membership of the Association of Negros Producers for the successful staging of the 29th Negros Trade Fair in Glorietta from September 24 to 28. This annual event is the longest-running provincial trade fair held in Manila every year, but the latest edition is unlike any before. This year's theme, "Smiles Beyond Borders", was the altruistic response of the ANP to Typhoon Yolanda and the Bohol Earthquake, and the interrupted lives that trailed behind. ANP wanted to help, that's for sure, but instead of sending another mothballed sweater from the trunk, ANP designed something more proactive, one that could impact positively on the capacity of victims to get up and move on. Some ANP members outsourced labor to affected areas to jumpstart livelihoods, while others bought debris and upcycled these into raw materials. What could have been left as garbage in the landfill was gathered and incorporated in Christmas ornaments, fashion accessories, home furnishings, even rosaries made of felled wood from Tacloban. Truly, one person's trash is another's treasure. These types of raw materials and skilled labor are abundant and more accessible in Negros, but the call to go beyond borders was loud and clear. And then, what goes around comes around. The goodness that the ANP showed came back in the form of increased sales. In a report issued by the ANP leadership, this year's trade fair raked in P17 Million in sales, or P4 Million more than the previous year. See? It pays to be nice.

Another group that recently went beyond its borders, although in a different way, is Gawad Kalinga in Negros. Led by Bobby Magalona, the organization has in time expanded its work from building houses to delivering services to the greater barangay community. GK is able to do this with the help of student-volunteers from different schools. With this army of young, energetic do-gooders, Bobby met with me in mid-September to discuss the possibility of teaching trash segregation to barangays. I thought I died and went to heaven, honestly. Educating residents in barangays is the key to segregation at source (at home), prayed for by our national garbage management law, Republic Act 9003. After years of work in this advocacy, I believe that education is the biggest challenge of all, not only because it is hard to change habits formed out of convenience, such as not segregating trash, but more so because of the daunting task of teaching over a hundred million waste generators that live on these islands from sea to shining sea. That we in the Bacolod Anti-Baha Alliance do not have a crew to begin the task makes the offer of GK manna from heaven. Now, our job is to train student-volunteers how to teach segregation in barangays. Although we admit that peculiarities between barangays will require mutations in garbage management systems, we are determined to simplify the work into a five-step process without sacrificing correctness.

Where the road forks

In self-mastery class, one of the provocative mantras constantly hummed to our ears goes this way: "Every moment is a moment of choice, and every choice leads to results. We are responsible for our results." Nevermore is this mantra unnerving than now when we near the fork of the road, where one way leads south and the other leads west, always crossing, never meeting.

Three weeks ago I wrote about Waste to Worth, an initiative that would turn our unsegregated trash into diesel fuel and electricity. Last week I wrote about the Surallah Cluster Sanitary Landfill in South Cotabato where Gov. Daisy Fuentes successfully wrestled with the bane of solid waste management (SWM): garbage segregation at home. Because I am for segregation, my heart leans towards Surallah. But because we have scandalously failed at segregation, my brain is not giddy about letting Waste to Worth go. To choose one is to chuck the other, there cannot be 50 shades of gray. If we segregate garbage, completely or partially, there will not be enough trash to produce fuel and power. If we do not segregate for the purpose of turning waste to worth, we will never get into the discipline of segregation, and when systems fail us, as similar systems have in San Fernando, Pampanga and in Cebu, we will be left with tons of garbage we don't know what to do with. The choices are distinct, one leading south, the other headed west, always crossing, never meeting. And we have to choose only one.

Following Gov. Daisy

Its name an abbreviation of "South of Allah", Surallah is one of the leading towns of South Cotabato. This is where I find renewed hope for garbage segregation. In last week’s meeting of the Bacolod Anti-Baha Alliance, Galing Pook Foundation Chairman Lito Coscolluela shared that the Surallah Cluster Sanitary Landfill is a 2014 Galing Pook Awardee.