Communities, EcoGroups Hit DENR, LGUs on “Cosmetic” Action to Save Bulacan Rivers

QUEZON CITY, Philippines – Residents of Obando and environmental groups express dismay over the failure of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the local governments of Bulacan in coming up with genuine solutions to rehabilitate the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando rivers and make the real culprits pay the price for continuously polluting the critical ecosystem.

“We are saddened by the publicity stunt offering a band-aid solution to the waste and toxics crises that have been messing up our river systems for generations. Clean-up and dredging of the rivers is not enough! The government must address the root of the problem by going after the violators and enforcing the law,” said Ma. Teresa Bondoc of the Concerned Citizens of Obando.

Last November 22, Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino Sy Alvarado; officials of Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR; local government officials of affected towns and former Ambassador Antonio Cabangon Chua, chairman of the Ecoshield Development Corp. signed an agreement ­­­to forge partnership to clean up the said river system, identified as one of the worst in the world. EcoShield is the proponent of the controversial Obando Landfill which is being established in Barangay Salambao, a coastal community in Obando and along Manila Bay, despite the opposition of local communities. The 44-hectare landfill will be built in mangrove forests of Manila Bay and foreshore areas of the Obando River. “It is completely immoral and inhuman to pass this toxic burden to us, the people of Obando, by putting others’ toxic garbage into our rivers while the real culprits go about their businesses as usual, continuously polluting the river systems they pretend to clean up,” Bondoc added Meanwhile, residents of Barangay Salambao and adjacent barangays feared that once the Obando Landfill starts to operate, it will aggravate the stinks and pollution of their waters caused by another nearby garbage dump – the Navotas Landfill. “We are further saddened by the attempts from the pro-landfill side to blur the real issue by their alleging that the Obandenyo’s opposition against the landfill project is motivated by political and business interests. These accusations are utterly baseless as our opposition stands solely on our desire to protect our right to live in a safe and toxic-free environment,” former Salambao Chairman Mercy Dolorito stressed. The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or Republic Act 9003 prohibits the establishment of waste disposal facilities in environmentally-critical areas such as flood-prone areas, watershed, groundwater reserves etc. Yet, the DENR issued ECCs to Obando Landfill and to its neighboring Navotas Landfill. “We teach our children not to throw their trash to our canals and rivers and yet the government allows waste disposal facilities, which will cater to tons and tons of garbage every day, to be built in our rivers and in Manila Bay,” said Dolorito.

Meanwhile, the pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition hits the proposal of the DENR to dump the excavated river debris in the landfills in Manila Bay.

“The Navotas and Obando landfills are located in a very critical ecosystem. River debris and sediments contain high levels of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which makes them special wastes that need special handling and should not be indiscriminately dumped in facilities not designed for them. These facilities are even prone to climate change impacts and susceptible to geologic hazards,” said Rey Palacio of the EcoWaste Coalition.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), the site of the Obando landfill is vulnerable to liquefaction and tsunami, as well as to flooding and storm surges.

“We urge the government not to waste the already dwindling public funds. If we are sincere to save and rehabilitate our rivers, we should prosecute the polluters and end pollution from the source. We should stop dumping garbage in our ecosystems,” said Palacio.