Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Public Forum Assessing Compliance of LGUs’ Implementation of RA 9003
18 April 2016 | Leyte Normal University, Tacloban City
“Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
I have just quoted Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si’,which profoundly explains how humans have been destroying the only planet we call home.
One of the things he has called for is to veer away from the throwaway culture and adopt a circular model of production and consumption to preserve our resources.
Technically, we have already responded to this call when in 2001, we enacted Republic Act No. 9003 or The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which mandates segregation of waste and establishment of a materials recovery facility (MRF) so that only residual waste are sent to sanitary landfills. It patronizes recycling and the use of recyclable materials to minimize waste output. It bans open dumpsites, the use of incinerators, and burning of waste. It promotes the use of environment-friendly disposal of solid waste.
The Philippines actually has one of the most beautiful laws on solid waste management in the world. But why have our rivers and bodies of water become filthy?
The Manila Bay, a source of food, livelihood and recreation to an estimated 23 million Filipinos, remains polluted with tons of garbage. More than 60 percent of the waste collected by environmental groups in the Manila Bay clean-up drives are made of plastic.
In fact, the Philippines is the third top contributor of plastic waste that enters the oceans with around 0.28-0.75 million metric tons of plastic marine waste annually, next only to China and Indonesia.
This is very dangerous because plastic can choke and poison marine species and damage marine ecosystems. Ultimately, it can affect humans through the fish that we eat.
There is also the danger of environmental disasters caused by mismanaged waste such as trash slides—like what happened in Payatas, Manila in 2000 and Irisan, Baguio in 2011—and the flooding we experience during downpours because of garbage-clogged waterways.
All of this we could prevent if only we followed the law.
It has been 15 years since we passed RA 9003, but according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), as of 2015, only 36 percent, or 545 local government units (LGUs), have complied with all aspects of this legislation.
In 2013, the Office of the Ombudsman, through its Environmental Ombudsman, led the launch of the “Solid Waste Management Law Voluntary Compliance Program.”
Phase 1 of the program was the conduct of LGUs’ self-assessment based on their compliance with the provisions of RA 9003. Letters were sent to 1,634 LGUs but only 417 conducted self-assessment—135 LGUs assessed themselves as satisfactorily compliant and 282 assessed themselves as less satisfactory.
Now, the Environmental Ombudsman is in Phase 2 of the program, which is the filing of cases against non-compliant LGUs.
I support the Ombudsman and all its partners in this bold move against LGUs that have failed to comply with RA 9003, particularly those that still operate open dumpsites, have not built MRFs, do not implement segregation at source, and have not submitted a 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan.
The grace period has long been overdue. It is time that those who still fail to comply with the law face the consequences of their inaction.
As the Ombudsman proceeds with legal action against erring LGUs, I also encourage everyone, every citizen, every household to do their respective share in implementing the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law.
The heart of the ESWM Law is its inherent purpose towards a paradigm shift, a change to a low carbon, zero waste lifestyle. That is why segregation at source is among the main facets of the law because implementation must start in our own homes.
The ESWM Law and the multitude of environmental laws we have—Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Renewable Energy Law, Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law, People’s Survival Fund Law, among others—are instruments in ensuring that we are on the path to sustainable and resilient development.
We are in the midst of a global crisis caused by climate change. The greenhouse gases (GHG) that have become trapped in our atmosphere have caused the rapid rise of the Earth’s temperature and it is affecting our lives and our future as we experience extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, food instability, among other impacts.
On April 22, Earth Day, nations will converge in New York to sign the Paris Agreement, which was the result of the climate negotiations in Paris culminating last December.
The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to limit global temperature rise within the century “well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
We rally our fellow vulnerable nations to ensure the early entry into force of the Agreement. But when we commit to this treaty, we must realize that the commitment goes beyond what the government is expected to do. Every citizen has a responsibility to keep our promises and turn them into action.
As individuals, we must concretize our participation in climate action and make it part of our daily living by adopting a low carbon lifestyle.
In a low carbon lifestyle, individuals and communities commit to change their daily routine and practices to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to create carbon dioxide sinks. The aggregate of these individual and community efforts will considerably mitigate climate change. Learning how to manage our local resources will eventually lead to the sustainability of our country. Ultimately, the objective is to help the world manage its ecological assets more judiciously so that humanity can live within the Earth’s limitations.
The effective implementation of the ESWM Law is part of our climate mitigation efforts as it promotes not only the efficient and eco-friendly management of our solid waste, but also adopting a zero waste lifestyle, which means reusing, recycling, upcycling, avoiding buying unnecessary goods, and patronizing products that produce zero to minimal waste.
As principal author and sponsor of this law, I lament the low compliance rate we have achieved in the 15 years that this measure has been in effect. But I maintain my optimism because today I see the Ombudsman and the DENR, supported by non-government organizations and advocacy groups, at the forefront of this battle to urge and compel LGUs to implement the ESWM Law and all other environmental laws.
Moreover, in the 2016 national budget, P500 Million was allocated under the DENR for capacity building programs for LGUs for the implementation of the ESWM Law. This is our way of giving further support to achieve 100 percent compliance.
In closing, I wish to go back to Pope Francis’ encyclical. He said, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. ”
Let us work together to redefine development—to change our way of thinking and our way of doing.
Let us veer away from the throwaway culture and aim for a zero waste economy.
Let us turn our back on extractive and consumptive practices and adopt the concept of sustainable development and low carbon lifestyle.
Let us give nothing less than our wholehearted commitment to our duty as stewards of the earth so that we, and the generations to come, can live in a safe, clean, healthy and resilient world.