State of the Toilet: On the fringes, direct to the sea

FROM a distance, you could already smell the compounded foul odor of garbage, open waste pipes, and worse -- human feces.

Nothing has changed since Sun.Star Davao visited Isla Verde in Barangay 23-C, Davao City almost six years ago to check on its sanitation status. Now, some 200 households still have no toilets in the area, many have had no toilet since birth.

A portion of Isla Verde occupied by the Sama tribe from Laminosa had the worst conditions. They have occupied the area since 1976 and since then, they have endured the hardships brought about by the poorly sanitized area.

The Situation

Bamboo houses are erected over the shoreline of the beach. Wooden bridges made up of bamboo and coco lumber clumped in a very odd way served as the alleyways of the area. From below the elevated houses, you could see heaps of garbage which seemed to cover the shoreline and obviously it emitted a foul odor.

Residents in the area had electricity and water supply but the thing is, they don't have any toilets. Instead, they carved out holes on the bamboo bases of their houses and used plywood to create a cubicle which already served as their comfort rooms. From there, you would already be wondering where the human waste goes but obviously, with the structures of their elevated houses, there are no septic tanks and the wastes go directly beneath the houses together with the piles of garbage.

Mandeng Makairal, 50, and a resident of the area since birth said, "Amo na lang nang ipahulog ang among hugaw diresto sa baba sa mga balay kay wala man gyud mi septic tank. Hulaton na lang namo na mu-taob kung dili ba magulan para mawala ang hugaw (We just let the our waste fall straight under the houses since we don't have any septic tanks. We just wait until it is high tide or when it rains so that the wastes will be washed away)."

Makairal added, "We barely have enough money to feed us at least twice a day and pay the water and electricity bill so we don't bother spending for the construction of septic tanks."

Jerse Dan Nenteng, 22, also a resident of Isla Verde said, "Kasagaran mga tao diri sipon-on ug ubohon. Daghan pud ug sigeg kalibanga diri tungod sa kahugaw sa lugar, (Most of the people here are prone to colds and respiratory ailments. Many also experience loose bowel movement due to the unsanitary place.)"

Nenteng also said the place gets very stinky when it rains or when it is high tide but people just had to live with it.

Why not relocate?

The Sama Laminosa still has a good grasp of its traditions and part of it is that they should settle by the sea.

Aamirah Saed, 29, said, "Mamatay mi kung didto mi sa bundok magpuyo. Dapat gyud diri mi duol sa dagat kay mao gyud na ang kinaiya sa mga katigulangan sa Laminosa tribe (We will die if we live in the mountains. We should live near beaches because it has been the tradition of the elders of Sama Laminosa)."

Although many of them are now into vending as ambulant sellers of just about anything they can buy from the China shops along Magsaysay Avenue.

“The place is already convenient for sellers because it is near Ramon Magsaysay Ave. where there are cheap merchandises that we could re-sell for higher prices," Makairal said.

But most of the residents in the area would agree that they simply could not just leave Isla Verde because they have no money for relocation and re-construction of new houses.

Saed said they are relying on the local officials to help them relocate yet they remain unheard.

"We wanted to be relocated near Boston Isla but our request has no response yet. We understand that it is not easy for them to do such thing but what about us? They would just let us stand this kind of living?" Saed said.

She added they have also sought assistance from Barangay 23-C chieftain Amilbangsa Manding but they tend to believe that they were discriminated upon as Manding, she claimed, was more inclined to help the Maranao settlers, Manding being a Maranao.

Assistance from Local Officials

Back when Manding was still the president of the Association of Barangay Captains in 2010, he donated two common comfort rooms in Isla Verde. The comfort rooms, however, were only utilized briefly as crashing waves destroyed them. He has also launched various cleanup programs but there were no sustainable projects that could keep the area clean.

They tried to reach their tribal leader Hadji Nashra Mahamud for added help but they haven't heard from him recently.

Makairal said, "There were many local candidates who visited the area and they have witnessed firsthand that the place has a very poor sanitation. They also saw that people here are very poor."

She added they have exerted time and money to go to the polling centers and vote for them hoping that when they are elected, they could provide the necessary assistance to alleviate the dire conditions currently experienced by the people of Sama Laminosa.

But for now, the Sama Laminosa will have to toughen it out. Poverty continues to plague the area and not to mention the gastro-intestinal diseases that are looming around with the poorly-sanitized environment.

rSame thing at Dumalag

Punta Dumalag is a strip of land that goes out to the sea in Matina Aplaya.

As such, there is not much land on the strip, just a road some land on the shoulders enough for one or two houses, and then hundreds of other houses that are built above the water.

Several sari-sari stores line the road, some have videoke machines.

Some of them have extended kitchens outside their wooden homes where they cook meals, only that they have to walk on walkways to get from one place to another.

Few of these residents also have built cages beside their homes where they raise pigs and chickens.

Living there, however, has left them with no access to comfort rooms where the only septic tank they know is the expansive sea. Residents there clamor for two tangible necessities, one is a comfort room and the other is a concrete walkway.

Mario dela Cerna, a coastal resident in Punta Dumalag, said they have a comfort room at home where they take a bath, wash clothes, and take a dump, except that they don't have a septic tank.

Dela Cerna, a father of five children, and his wife have been living at their home that is built on sturdy stilts, as most of the houses, for over eight years now and have not used any comfortable toilets ever since.

He works for local fruit company and his monthly earning goes for the family's daily consumption. Nothing else is left to buy his children and wife a more descent home.

"Kung magbawas diretso lng sa dagat (If we defecate, the waste goes straight to the sea)," he said while glancing at his children who were eating lunch in a small kitchen not far from where he was seating.

Even with this, he said the only thing he and his family can do to protect the sea from further polluting is to keep their garbage, segregate the biodegradable from non-biodegrable, then wait for the garbage truck to collect their wastes.

According to the residents, they have not experienced having their own toilets for the longest time, and so, human wastes plus that of dogs' and other domesticated animals like pigs and chickens go directly to the sea.

Ebing (not her real name) said she and her family have been residing there since 2008.

"Ing-ani lang ang among CR (This is our comfort room," she said while pointing at the hole on the floor in which she said has become their toilet for six years.

Catherine Villegas, a mother of five, said she is aware of the possible environmental and health risks having no toilets at home.

"Naa gyud nay dili maayong epekto, hugaw baya na (There are negative effects because its waste)," she said.

Their simple abode, which they only bought from its previous occupants, was erected about four years ago.

"Ang akong bana ang taga dire, ako taga Mintal (My husband was from here while I came from Mintal)," she said, adding that she decided to stay in Punta Dumalag after she got married.

Villegas said there are personnel from Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) who come to visit at the barangay hall of Matina Aplaya to do lectures on proper garbage disposal.

She said many of her neighbors, however, cannot make it to the lectures since they are too busy finding ways to earn for the family.

For them, it seems building comfort rooms is a dream so far from reality as what is left of their meager income usually goes to foods and repair expenses of the walkways.

"Kung nindot among latayan, makahimo name og CR. Wala gyud kawarta, kulang pa pangbugas (Only if we have better walkways, we could have saved more for CR. We don't have enough money, not even enough for rice)," Mary Anne Bahan said.

She said few walkways have become brittle over time, which may be dangerous for the residents if not replaced or repaired at least. The cost of repair, however, cuts the family's budget, which is intended to buy themselves foods.

"Mag-amot-amot me para ayuhon ang tulay pero wala pa isa katuig madaot na sab (We contribute for the repair of the birdge, but only to be damaged again barely a year after)," she said.

Animal waste, including humans, is what causes the contamination of a coliform like Escherichia coli (E. Coli) in the sea, the presence of which is so rampant in the waters off Punta Dumalag.

It can be recalled that the City Government of Davao issued a closure order on the fish cages there due to high contamination level of E. coli. There were 47 affected operators, with more or release 200 cages.

In a series of microbial analysis on fish and seawater sample results conducted by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) 11 on September 26, 2012, October 3, 2012, and October 10, 2012, it showed a tolerable level of E. Coli in the sea where fish cages are.

"The fish flesh analysis showed 3 MPN/g (most probable number per gram) way below the permissible limit of microbial standard requirement for fish and fishery products," City Agriculturist Office (CAO) chief Valente Turtur said, in his letter to City Mayor Sara-Duterte Carpio last March 6.

The permissible level of E. Coli must not go beyond 11 MPN/g.

Despite this, it seems there's no stopping on the construction of new houses. For instance, this concrete house, just few meters away from Bahan's, now nears completion.

"Dili man ako ang tag-iya ani. Wala sila (I'm not the owner of this house. They aren't around)," said a resident who refused to be named.


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