Government agencies probe Baguio trash slide

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011


BAGUIO CITY -- Two government agencies are conducting separate investigations on the August 27 Irisan dumpsite tragedy that killed three people and left two others missing.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is looking into the accountability of local government officials in the continued operation of the open dumpsite.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), on the other hand, is investigating the "engineering flaw" that had caused the dumpsite's retaining wall to collapse.

Presidential adviser on environmental protection Juan Romeo Nereus "Neric" Acosta earlier said the officials in this city should be held responsible for the tragedy for violating Republic Act (RA) 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

Acosta criticized local government officials for their failure to close down the dumpsite despite an order from the National Government.

RA 9003 stipulates the closure of open and controlled dumpsites by February 16, 2004 and February 16, 2006, respectively.

Among others, the law requires the establishment of materials recovery facilities (MRFs), also known as ecology centers, in every village or cluster of villages to promote and support waste prevention and reduction at the grassroots level.

As early as 2009, when piles of trash were already seen spilling over the dumpsite due to continuous rains, residents of Baguio's Irisan and Asin Road villages and Tuba town's Tadiangan village have demanded for the closure of the dumpsite, which has been affecting nearby residents since the 70s.

"We have been protesting ever since for its closure but officials never listened to us," said Amado Binwag, a resident of Purok 7 in Asin Road village.

Since the passage of RA 9003 in 2003, the DENR had been reminding local government units to slowly come up with their own engineered sanitary landfills (ESL) or at least a controlled dumpsite.

"It's still the call of the local government and the operation of the Irisan dumpsite is still under them," said Clarence Baguilat, DENR regional director.

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan last year acquired an Environmental Recycling System (ERS) from Protech to reduce the city's garbage by half as the equipment turns biodegradable wastes into high-grade organic fertilizer.

However, lack of discipline among residents resulted in segregation failure with the ERS machines only reducing garbage by as much as 15 percent.

BAGUIO. Residents of Km. 5, Asin gingerly make their way through tons of garbage, wary of heavy equipment digging through the muck. (Ace Alegre)



Hauling of residual and recyclable wastes, comprising 70 percent of the city's 166 tons of garbage produced daily, continued at the dumpsite.

As a remedial measure, the City Government constructed an eight-meter high retaining wall around 1.5 meters thick with assistance from the DENR to contain the spillover of garbage and seepage of leachate water into areas below the dump.

On August 27, heavy rains brought about by Typhoon Mina caused the mound of garbage at the Irisan dumpsite to loosen and later destroyed a retaining wall. The ensuing avalanche of trash killed three people, destroyed three homes and damaged many others.

Baguilat, quoting a report by DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Regional Technical Director Paquito Moreno, said an infrastructure problem occurred, which caused the collapse of the retaining wall.

He said the retaining wall did not survive the high pressure of water, which saturated the tons of garbage in the dumpsite.

The trash slide has rendered Asin Road impassable, causing inconvenience to residents and motorists.

Acosta said the incident in Baguio City has become a national concern since the collapse may cause further damage infrastructure, if not responded to immediately, and may endanger the health of the residents.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, meanwhile, agreed with Acosta on making local officials liable for the tragedy, but noted that the government should first solve the garbage problem at Irisan by transferring the trash to other landfill.

Paje, in a statement, said he will be meeting soon with Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo to discuss ways on how to enhance local government unit (LGU) compliance with the law.

As early as 2006, the DENR, through the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), chaired by the Secretary, sent out notice of violations to more than a thousand LGUs that have continually been operating open and controlled dumpsites.

"The DENR's role is to help LGUs manage their garbage. At the national level, the government is performing, but the LGUs are not complying," he said.

Under the law, the establishment or operation of open dumpsites is punishable with a minimum fine of a P500,000. LGU officials can also be charged administratively in accordance with RA 7160 or the Local Government Code.

Paje, meanwhile, said the Irisan site had been identified as an area highly susceptible to landslides in a geohazard map of the province.

He thus requested all LGU officials to review the geohazard maps distributed by the DENR to assess which areas are prone to floods and landslides to avoid similar future tragedies.

"The maps identify areas of no-habitation zone, plus debris accumulation zones," he said.

Trash hauling

On Sunday, some 220 tons of garbage from Baguio City was dumped in the Urdaneta City's sanitary landfill at Barangay Catablan after Mayor Domogan secured approval from Urdaneta City Mayor Amadeo Gregorio Perez IV.

Domogan requested to haul trash to the Urdaneta dumpsite after Baguio City's Irisan dumpsite was cleared and repaired.

Urdaneta City, which is two hours away from the Summer Capital, charged P2,500 for every ton of trash dumped in its land fill, the very first in Pangasinan that was inaugurated by President Benigno Aquino III last April 2011.

The amount of daily garbage collected by the Urdaneta dumpsite is still below capacity, Perez said, adding that three other local government units in Pangasinan had signified their intention to dump their garbage at the Urdaneta's sanitary landfill.

The dumpsite was launched in 2010 by then city mayor now Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) Chairman Amadeo Perez Jr. after the City Government spent P220 million for the project, which was funded by a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

All local government units must have their own sanitary landfill to address their respective problems on garbage and in compliance with RA 9003.

Dagupan City Mayor Bejamin Lim, for his part, said it would be practical to have a sanitary landfill at clustered areas or in each district in Pangasinan, owing to the high cost of constructing a landfill.

Dumpsites' closure

In Manila, a waste and pollution watchdog on Tuesday sought the closure and rehabilitation of dumpsites nationwide after the incident in Baguio.

To ensure that it will not occur in the future, the EcoWaste Coalition said systematic rehabilitation of decommissioned dumpsites is required to reduce the continuing biological, chemical, and physical threats from these disposal facilities.

At present, 790 open and 382 controlled dumpsites remain in operation nationwide, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) said in its website.

As an immediate step, the group called on the EMB and the local government units to conduct "honest-to-goodness" compliance checks for all disposal facilities to determine if basic safety requirements are adhered to.

"Such compliance checks must involve all stakeholders, including representatives from host communities and from environmental health organizations," the group said.

Also on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) gave assurances that engineering measures are in place to prevent a landslide similar to what happened in the Irisan dumpsite.

The agency is also conducting routine inspections of the three sanitary landfills in Payatas, Quezon City, Tanza in Navotas and Rodriguez in Rizal, which are managed by private contractors, MMDA Solid Waste Management Director Alex Umagat said.

Landfill operators have been advised to conduct continued monitoring of any possible soil erosion due to rains caused by Typhoon Mina that hit the country recently.

MMDA Assistant General Manager for Operations Tina Velasco said the agency is coordinating with the 17 local government units in Metro Manila, as well as local officials where the sanitary landfills are located.

At the same time, Velasco appealed to the public to help the MMDA by not throwing their trash indiscriminately adding that the agency cannot solve the problem alone.

Seventy percent of garbage generated in Metro Manila is household waste.

Metro Manila produces about 8,600 tons of waste on a daily basis or about 25 percent of the Philippines' daily garbage output of 35,000 tons. (With Sun.Star Baguio/Liway C. Manantan-Yparraguirre/Virgil Lopez/AMN/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 31, 2011.

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