Saturday, October 23, 2021

EXPLAINER: Stench at Inayawan transfer site, squabble over fees due to Binaliw landfill. 'Beyond comprehension,' Rama says. Watch if City Hall could handle the mess.

SunStar File/Google Maps

EMERGENCY OR CALAMITY. At a press-con Saturday, June 26, Cebu City Acting Mayor Michael Rama reported the situation at the garbage transfer site in Barangay Inayawan, thus:

"Piles of garbage can be found everywhere and the stench is unbearable." It is "beyond comprehension," Rama said.

Worrying over distressed residents in 6,000 barangay households, Rama wanted a state of emergency or calamity declared in the entire area or parts of it. That would free funds to fix the problem.

Acting Mayor Mike called for a Sanggunian special session Monday, June 28, but the City Council recessed until next Wednesday, June 30, because it didn't know, or forgot, what was the problem. It didn't have the facts, as one councilor put it, and no resource persons -- the managers of the problem or those familiar with it -- were invited.

Now, what is probably "beyond comprehension" to the public is the City not being able to solve a problem that has bugged administrations for decades. That, and this time not getting ready for the special session by getting a heads-up on the problem at hand.

WHAT RECENTLY HAPPENED, AT A GLANCE: [1] Aljory Waste Management Solutions/Docast, the city's garbage contractor, allegedly failed to pay a total of P18.675 million plus, as of June 21, when ARN Central Waste Management Inc. demanded payment, through its lawyer Elias L. Espinoza.

[2] Under the ARN Central contract with Docast, the landfill company has the right to refuse entry and dumping at its site seven days after the amount is due (within three days from billing). ARN exercised that right. Docast trucks were turned away but not, according to Atty. Espinoza, vehicles of barangays and the City.

[3] Docast at the press-con denied it had unpaid debt to ARN. It was probably because Docast settled its delinquency with post-dated checks. ARN lawyer Elias L. Espinoza said Docast did not meet its condition, which was that the first check be on date, while the rest could be post-dated. (Disclosure: Espinoza writes the weekly column Free Zone for SunStar.) Worse, Docast top official John David Javier, Espinoza said, did not acknowledge its debt, even denying that it owed money to ARN Central.

[4] The cut-off of garbage collection by Docast has increased the Inayawan volume of trash, piles of which, A.M. Rama said, were everywhere in that barangay. That must have been after Councilor Frankyn Ong, ABC head, announced that trash must come from the transfer station starting last Thursday, June 17. "They're all dumping their sh** in Inayawan," one resident told SunStar.

INAYAWAN'S OWN WOES. Even without the Docast-ARN dispute over unpaid bills, the Inayawan transfer site is bugged by its own problems: the road to and from the area called White Road is dilapidated, making travel through it slow and tortuous. The road also lacks drainage, spreading rain water made foul by the uncollected garbage.

Declaring the calamity or emergency will give access to fund for road repair and a drainage, which may reduce the volume of trash and stop the pile-up and yet but won't remove the problem.

Then there's the matter of politics. Karl Bryan Repollo, Inayawan barangay captain, a member of the opposition BOPK, wants funds used under the name of calamity or emergency to be accounted for and "not used for private money-making." How much of that is true?

The landfill was already ordered closed and yet was still being used, ostensibly as mere transit point. Yet it has decidedly become more than that: a deceptive violation of the closure order against the landfill and a worse threat to environment and public health.

GARGANERA PETITION FOR KALIKASAN. The City Government, by City Council resolution, decided in 2011 to close the Solid Waste Sanitary Landfill Project at Inayawan, or 18 years after it was issued an environmental compliance certificate on April 6, 1993. Then mayor Mike Rama formally closed it on June 15, 2015.

On June 8, 2016, before elected mayor Tomas Osmeña took over, through then Acting Mayor Margot Osmeña, his wife, asked DENR's Environmental Management Bureau for authority to open temporarily the landfill. EMB said it had no authority to do so but it had no objection provided the City complies with its commitments. Inayawan was officially reopened by then mayor Tomas in July 2016.

EMB issued a notice of violation in September 2016. On the 16th, EMB recommended immediate closure of the Inayawan landfill. On September 23, Joel Capili Garganera, the councilor, sued for the people of Cebu city and Talisay City and the "future generations" for a writ of kalikasan. The Court of Appeals granted the writ on December 15, ordering Mayor Osmeña to "permanently cease and desist from dumping or disposing of garbage or solid waste at Inayawan landfill and to continue to rehabilitate the same." Osmeña asked the CA on March 14, 2017 to reconsider, was refused. He went to the Supreme Court, which on March 20, 2018 affirmed the CA ruling.

WHEN DOCAST CAME IN. ARN Central's Atty. Ellie Espinoza said the landfill started serving its contract with the City in May 2009, three months before its scheduled August opening in Binaliw. A city garbage truck fell into a ravine in Consolacion, some 17.3 kilometers from central Cebu City, prompting the transfer to Binaliw.

Still even after the dumping site was moved to the new landfill to Binaliw, the Inayawan landfill was still used as transfer station, making the actual trip of a garbage haul even longer and the task obviously doubled since collected garbage has to be ferried to Inayawan first, taken out and dumped, then picked up by Docast for the journey to Binaliw.

Or is that the system? Even some councilors -- in the June 28 abbreviated special session -- professed ignorance of the garbage disposal procedure.

COUNCIL MAY NEED TO KNOW: [1] KALIKASAN GOAL. How the City can dispose of its garbage without using Inayawan as transfer site, which violates the express purpose of the landfill's closure and the reason the Kalikasan writ was issued: protection of one's right for a healthy environment.

[2] TRANSFER SITE. When the City will use a transfer station only when absolutely necessary, as it raises the cost of disposal. In the City Council's August 1, 2019 session, Minority Floorleader Noel Archival questioned the route and the cost spike.

At the time, the Sanggunian approved P190.3-million supplemental budget that would allow a private hauler to collect and dispose of the garbage.

[3] COST. How the pricing was done: As of 2019, at least 600 tons of garbage at the cost of P324,400 were collected daily in the city. But records of ARN Central, as of June 2021, show that the city's combined garbage collection and disposal averages only 360 tons, broken down thus: 150 from DPS, 80 from the barangays, and 130 from Docast. Has the daily haul of trash gone down since 2019, when 600 tons were reported? And Docast seems to rank only #2 in hauling volume, so where does most of the garbage funds go?

Atty. Espinoza said ARN Central charges P600 per ton for accepting the garbage. How much does Docast get per ton for collecting and hauling and how much is paid to the Inayawan transfer site for the short-time stay of trash?

[4] CHANGE OF ADMINISTRATIONS. How to protect a sensible garbage disposal program against the whims of a new administration. That is real and imminent, with a new election coming in less than a year.

EXTENT OF CRISIS. Acting Mayor Rama worried over the health of Inayawan residents, which could also affect the entire city, he said.

Concerning to the public is how public funds are spent: whether, as the Inayawan Barangay Captain Repollo fears, some politicians are making illicit money from the garbage problems.

What affects residents most is efficiency in collection, which still appears to elude City Hall administrations, one after the other in the last few decades. A pity for a local government that collected, despite the pandemic, P7.347 billion taxes in 2020 and is consistently ranked fourth richest city in the country.


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