From Manila Standard:
 
by Karl Allan Barlaan and Christian Cardiente

 

It was once known as home to the country’s largest state penitentiary. Now Muntinlupa is cleaning up its image in more ways than one.

In 2010, the Muntinlupa City Council approved City Ordinance 10-109 entitled, “An Ordinance Prohibiting the Use of Plastic Bags on Dry Goods, Regulating its Utilization on Wet Goods and Prohibiting the Use of Styrofoam/Styrophor in the City of Muntinlupa. While similar issuances have long been in effect in cities like New Delhi in India, Beijing in China, and San Francisco in the USA, for the Philippines, it is the first city-wide ordinance of its kind.

The measure, more stringent than the “no plastic bag days” being enforced by a few other local government units in Metro Manila, prohibits the use of plastic and styrophor packaging materials for dry and wet goods by business establishments within city limits. It also provides for penalties to would-be violators: P500 for the first offense; P1000 for the second offense; and P2500 and six months’ imprisonment for the third offense.

After a one-year moratorium, the ordinance took full effect on January of this year. But like all trailblazing pieces of legislation, its implementation was not without opposition. In April, workers from a plastic manufacturing company led by a certain Alan Malapitan filed criminal and administrative charges against Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro. Filed before the Ombudsman, the case alleged the “oppressive implementation” of the total plastic ban.

According to Malapitan, the rule, implemented without “even looking at its possible effects,” practically threatens the livelihood of more than 5000 workers in the plastic industry. The problem, he said, was the lack of “discipline in the disposal of garbage.”

Lawyer Raymund Palad, representing both Malapitan and the Philippine Plastic Industry Association echoed the sentiment saying Ordinate 10-109 was “in clear violation of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.”

Omar Acosta, the Mayor’s spokesperson, however countered that such a move was “mere harassment,” borne of manufacturing companies’ fear of “losing money.” The City Council had earlier claimed that plastics – non-biodegradable materials – are a major cause of flash floods in the city as they clog canals, three creeks, and more than ten rivers draining unto the dying Laguna Lake.

Advocacy group EcoWaste Coalition believes as much. According to its Coordinator, Rei Panaligan, “carelessly thrown plastic bags block the drainage systems and waterways (eventually) finding their way into the country’s biggest ‘landfill,’ the Manila Bay, causing massive marine pollution.”

“We now know how plastic bags are exacerbating our nation’s garbage woes and how illegally thrown plastic discard are adding to our people’s sufferings in times of flood and weather disturbances … Let us not forget the lessons of Ondoy.”

Panaligan was referring to the 2009 tropical storm “Ondoy” (international name Ketsana), which according to estimates from the National Disaster Coordinating Council had caused the country nearly P5 billion in damages, claimed the lives of nearly 300, and belatedly brought to the fore the perils of plastic-clogged drainage systems and waterways.

The EcoWaste Web site writes: “A discards survey in 2006 involving EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace volunteers shows that synthetic plastic materials constitute 76 percent of the floating trash items in Manila Bay, with plastic bags comprising 51 percent; sachets and junk food wrappers, 19 percent; Styrofoam containers, five percent; and hard plastics, one percent. The rest of the rubbish found in Manila Bay consisted of rubber (10 percent) and biodegradable discards (13 percent).”

Further, “another study published in 2009 by the US-based Ocean Conservancy revealed that 679,957 of over 1.2 million pieces of marine litter of various types that were gathered in seaside areas during the 2008 International Coastal Clean Up Day in the country were plastic bags.”

For former Environment Department lawyer Alton Durban, these figures are enough for Muntinlupa to act in “defense” of its constituents. “It is within the power of the LGU (local government unit) to protect the general welfare of its constituents. The City and its people stand to spend more, in fact, lose more, if it does not enforce measures that will prevent future flash floods. Less waste, especially in the form of non-biodegradable waste, translates to a more efficient and more doable waste management system,” said Durban.

Former Senator and Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez believes as much. According to him, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which he co-authored, generally provides the guidelines for proper waste management. It is within the “purview of the LGU’s mandate to approve and enact ordinances for so long as these do not run contrary to existing laws.”

The challenge, however, remains the “reconciliation of various sectoral interests.” Alvarez who was also the principal author of another major environmental law, “The Clean Air Act of 1999,” recalled that it took him years to convince oil players, big business to give the then bill on Clean Air a chance. “I had to make them realize that even big business will ultimately benefit from eco-friendly and sustainable development,” he narrated.

“The environment is always of paramount concern.”

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