‘Environmental disaster’ at Cebu City Jail

Cebu City map.
Cebu City map.

THE continued lack of a septage treatment facility inside the male dormitory of the Cebu City Jail (CCJ), which is home to almost 9,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDL), is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

City Councilor Nestor Archival said a budget of around P100 million was allocated for a sewage treatment plant to collect and treat wastewater at the facility during the term of the late mayor Edgardo Labella.

However, the project has yet to be bid out four years after it was proposed, Archival told SunStar Cebu’s online news and commentary program “Beyond the Headlines” on Monday, March 25, 2024.

The CCJ male dormitory is located in the uptown barangay of Kalunasan across the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC). Both facilities are close to the Guadalupe River.

On Feb. 21, 2024, a motion was carried in the City Council for the executive department to prioritize the construction of the wastewater treatment facility at the CCJ.

“Naa gyud na gilabay sa kanal or padulong sa river, so it’s really a disaster. Timan-i kanang Guadalupe River kay usa na sa gikuhaan nato og water kay naa nay tubig sa ilawom,” Archival said.

(Some of the wastewater is thrown directly into the canal or river, so it’s really a disaster. Take note that Guadalupe River is one of the places where we take our water because there is water beneath.)

He said the septic tank at the male dormitory is already full, and overflows whenever one of the PDL goes to the bathroom.

“Imagine, there are 9,000 PDL who use the CR (comfort room) twice or thrice in one day and all of this are going down into the canal, going down to the river,” he said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

The local legislator said the CCJ has been forced to discharge wastewater into bodies of water despite potential violations of environmental laws.

“How are you going to manage? If you don’t release the waste in one week, the whole facility will be covered in human waste,” he said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

At the start of the 16th City Council in 2022, Archival said he passed a resolution that created a technical working group (TWG) led by City Councilor Francis Esparis, chairman of the committee on social service, to fast-track the bidding process.

“Until now, hapit na lang mag-eleksyon (with the next election already near), that bidding has not been conducted,” Archval said.

He said he received an unverified report that 50 percent of the project’s budget was realigned to other programs.

Archival said he could not validate the report due to the inefficient workflow and process at City Hall in terms of following up on paperwork and documents.

During Labella’s term, the male dormitory was described to be in a “state of disaster” due to the lack of an adequate sewage treatment facility, he said.

He said the vice mayor now Mayor Michael Rama had tasked him to allocate funding for the project.

SunStar Cebu tried to contact CCJ information officer JO1 Thea Bation for comment, but to no avail.

In 2018, a complaint was lodged before the Cebu City Environment and Natural Resources regarding a “persistent pungent smell” from the CCJ posing health and environmental risks to inmates and nearby residents.

In 2019, the Environmental Management Bureau 7 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources 7 issued a cease and desist order to the CCJ for failing to meet wastewater standards. It recommended overhauling and retrofitting the facility’s wastewater system.


Meanwhile, Archival described the City Government’s approach to problems as “reactive,” citing the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office’s (CDRRMO) recent resolution that declared 28 upland barangays under a state of calamity.

He pointed out that advisories and warnings on the dry spell were publicized a year ago, but the City Government did not capitalize on these to prepare to secure a steady source of water.

Farmers from upland barangays struggle to plant crops due to the lack of water, he said. Without water, farmers have fewer produce to sell, adding to their financial burden.

Once the council approves the CDRRMO’s declaration, affected barangays can use their calamity funds, while the City Government can use the P600 million in its calamity and quick response fund and the P100 million under the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund for necessary programs to address the problem.

“Karon nangayo na og tubig ang kabukiran. Instead nga ang bukid ang source sa atong tubig, ang bukid na ang nangayo og tubig nato diri sa ubos,” Archival said.

(The mountain barangays are now asking us in the lowlands for water when they are supposed to be the source of our water.)

Archival said the City Government could have pushed for the construction of gabion dams upstream and retention ponds to store water during downpours.

During the interview on “Beyond the Headlines,” Archival also expressed his concern over the non-issuance of excavation permits to the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) for its pipeline activities.

He said he withdrew his resolution to ask the mayor to grant MCWD’s request because other council members are questioning the validity of the water district’s contract with a private supplier.

Archival has announced that he might run for mayor in the midterm elections in 2025 with former mayor Tomas Osmeña as his running mate.

However, the minority floor leader said his final decision will rest on securing enough financial support to fuel a campaign. / EHP


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