CALLING it an environmental bombshell, Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez ordered the immediate closure of the Inayawan Sanitary Landfill yesterday.
Lopez said in a phone interview that she recommended the closure of Cebu City’s landfill in Barangay Inayawan after she saw that garbage dumped at the site has reached the sea.
She ordered the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) 7 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to issue the closure order and compel the City Government to come up with a rehabilitation plan for the landfill and find an alternative dumpsite.
“This site must be fixed. It’s an environmental bombshell,” Lopez said.
In a text message sent last night, Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he will have to follow the law.
“She initially said OK to rehab but when she heard that it’s near the sea she changed her mind. Due to climate change, she said sea levels may rise 6 to 8 meters,” he said. “No official order yet but I’m obligated to follow the law.”
Lopez’s decision to close the dumpsite came after getting conflicting reports from Osmeña, DENR 7 officials and City Councilor Joel Garganera about its status.
Garganera, who filed a petition seeking the landfill’s closure, urged Lopez to fire EMB 7 director William Cuñado, whom he claimed to have misled the DENR Secretary on the real situation at the landfill.
Before she visited the landfill yesterday, Lopez had agreed not to close the Inayawan landfill and proposed to the City to put up a waste-to-energy plant there.
Lopez also recommended to the City Government to avail itself of a biomass technology called Biochar, which she said can help minimize the stench and the presence of flies at the landfill.
Visit to landfill
Lopez was in Cebu yesterday to attend a forum organized by DENR at the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus. The visit to the landfill was not part of her itinerary.
But after hearing about the calls to close the facility, she decided to go to the site.
When she arrived at the landfill at 3 p.m., Osmeña and other city officials were waiting for her.
Lopez said she was surprised by the extent of the stench and the hordes of flies.
She immediately held another press conference at the Department of Public Services (DPS) office within the landfill.
During the press conference, Lopez was with Osmeña, his wife City Councilor Margarita Osmeña, DENR Undersecretary Isabelo Montejo, Cuñado and former city councilors Nida Cabrera and Augustus Jun Pe.
Call to Garganera
During the press conference, Osmeña told Lopez that Garganera and majority councilors allied with Team Rama are blocking his plans to improve the landfill.
Lopez then asked for Garganera’s cellular number and called him herself.
Lopez, who activated her speakerphone, called Garganera’s attention for refusing to help Osmeña in developing the landfill.
But their conversation suddenly turned serious when Garganera asked Lopez to turn off her speakerphone so he could speak to her in private.
After her conversation with Garganera, Lopez immediately told reporters that she has ordered DENR 7 officials to assist the City Government in rehabilitating the landfill.
She also urged Osmeña to work with Garganera in ensuring that the landfill will be rehabilitated and harmful effects are mitigated.
Only in court
Osmeña, in a separate interview, told reporters that he wants the Inayawan landfill to remain open as he wants the money the City would use for tipping fees for the private landfill in Consolacion to be used for the scholarship of indigent students.
Despite Lopez’s calls to him to talk to Garganera, Osmeña refused and said that he will just face the councilor in court.
“I’ll talk to him before the court because if you know Joel (Garganera), he will twist things around,” Osmeña said.
Change of mind
At six o’clock last night, Lopez called Sun.Star Cebu and said that she was closing the Inayawan landfill after learning from Garganera that the landfill was just a few meters from the sea.
“I’m not in favor of a dumpsite near the sea. With climate change causing the seas to rise, trash being dumped there and swept to the sea could cause an environmental hazard,” Lopez said.
In a separate interview, Garganera lauded Lopez for implementing the closure of the Inayawan landfill.
He said Lopez was given wrong information about the real state of the landfill. He accused Osmeña and DENR 7 officials of not briefing her properly.
“The lack of information has placed her in a very difficult situation,” Garganera said.
Writ of Kalikasan
The issue on the Inayawan landfill came to light after Osmeña ordered its reopening after he was elected mayor.
During the mayorship of Michael Rama, the City closed the dumpsite and delivered the garbage to a private landfill in nearby Consolacion town.
But Osmeña stopped this, saying the tipping fees were exorbitant and the arrangement was not covered by a contract.
With the landfill’s operations hurting residents and establishments, Garganera filed a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan before the Court of Appeals (CA) Cebu Station to stop the landfill’s operation.
A Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy under Phlippine law that protects one’s right to a healthy environment.
Although the CA 19th Division issued a Writ of Kalikasan against Osmeña and two DENR 7 officials, it deferred the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) and urged parties to come up with a “win-win solution.”