Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Issue No. 21 July 8-14, 2001 Quezon City, Philippines
rains fell on July 10 last year, a huge wall of garbage collapsed in Metro
Manila’s main dump in Payatas, Quezon City, crushing a row of shacks and
burying more than a hundred people. The disaster sent an avalanche of outrage as
urban poor groups, environmentalists and lawyers demanded the site’s immediate
closure. The open dump was closed, but only temporarily as authorities proved
unable to solve Metro Manila’s garbage crisis. One year after the eve of
the disaster day, we visited Payatas and discovered its secrets.
DELA TRINIDAD SORIANO
Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, I stopped by the Litex Market in Fairview
one night early last week. Behind the wet market (famous its for cheap fruits
and vegetables) was the terminal for public vehicles bound for "Urban"
but jeepney signs showed Lupang Pangako (Land of Promise). I boarded the first
jeepney that was headed for the “Land of Promise.”
was a fast 25-minute ride from the main road along the fenced La Mesa Dam on the
left and a long row of junk shops and many wooden huts, a few vacant lots, and a
vast darkness farther left, towards the small community known as Phase 2.
sky was pitch-dark broken only by a constellation of stars. The wind coming from
the east was fresh and cool. The night was calm.
we briefly strolled the clean road towards south, I was looking over the
glittering stretch of San Mateo town. On its left was what looked like a huge
mountain, flat on its top, conjuring a silhouette of beauty, accentuated by
small fires now and then blazing like bonfires. Strangers could have mistaken
this mountain for a real one until the morning light unveils the secrets of
was in Payatas—the site of the biggest open dump in the country next to the
former Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila. The Ren dump trucks parked disorderly
along the road and the stinking odor emanating from the short row of junk shops
would unfold an entirely different experience. Rediscovering Payatas was also
made possible through the help of my "tourist guide" Yolly Alcantara
of the urban poor group, Kadamay.
years ago, Payatas was dirty and stinking. When I went there for another story,
its huge steep mountain of garbage was a horrible constant sight for the
thousands of residents every morning of their lives. Everybody then seemed
restless and harsh, struggling each day to survive.
only as the second Smokey Mountain, its open dump was already a mountain-high
pile of garbage and sickening odor was everywhere when it hogged the headlines on July 10 last year
after a trash slide buried more than a hundred scavengers, including women and
children. Local officials and waste management authorities blamed each other for
the tragedy and investigations were conducted. But all they could do for those
who survived was to resettle them elsewhere.
year after the disaster, behind the garbage mountain opposite the site of the
tragedy, dump trucks were rumbling in to dump loads of waste again.
looked for Aling Nita, the old woman whose husband was a former fisherman in La
Mesa. Two years ago, the couple was living in a shack beside the former water
well. The well had since become a methane gas reservoir cum public gas stove at
the foot of the garbage mountain.
asked for neighbors who I could only remember by their faces. Five middle-aged
women gathered around during an interview and excitedly shared their stories
and problems with me.
couple from Camarines Sur province who were living across the creek facing the
dump then told me that their search for greener pastures in Manila ended at the
stinking garbage mountain in Payatas almost a decade ago. I recalled another
name: Rudy Gino, the militant leader of an urban poor group based in Payatas.
night, I looked for all of the folks I had a chance to talk to before. But all
of them, according to Alcantara of Kadamay, were buried to death in the July
disaster. I tried to hide my dejection by looking at the silhouette of the vast
flat top mountain under the starry sky and imagined the bonfires to be huge
candles for their wake.
by the souls of their fellow scavengers, survivors do not want the continued
operation of the Payatas dump, reopened barely six months after the disaster.
to Juanito Artiola, president of the Sandigan ng mga Magkakapitbahay sa Payatas
(SAMKAP) under the urban poor federation Kadamay, only about five percent of the
households in the area favor the idea.
na naming maulit ang nangyari...napakaraming namatay, may nasunugan ng bahay.
Ang mga bata palaging nagkakasakit. Marumi ang tubig, marumi ang buong paligid
at napakabaho! Hindi na dapat maulit ang ganoon (We don’t want the tragedy to
happen again…with many people killed and huts burned. Children are always
sick. The water is dirty, so is the whole place which stinks. It shouldn’t
happen again)," Artiola said in an interview.
told Bulatlat.com that those who favor the garbage operations are not
Payatas residents but a new group of scavengers coming from the squatters area
at the nearby National Government Center (NGC).
official Boy Espiritu said Payatas residents demand the site’s permanent
closure, the indemnification of the July 10 tragedy and security of tenure with
basic services for the Payatas communities.
has been the main source of income for about 75 percent of Payatas residents.
the metropolis, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) records show,
scavenging of solid waste is widely practiced as a means of making a living for
some tens of thousands of scavengers.
MMDA sees scavenging however as a "highly effective and productive
MMDA paper notes: "Scavengers play an important role in the existing solid
waste management system of Metro Manila, recycling a significant portion of the
total solid waste generated. This extremely effective recycling mechanism
reduces the total volume of refuse to be collected at the curb and deposited at
the disposal sites. Scavenging also provides local industry with an inexpensive
source of reusable materials. The value approaches P1 billion annually."
residents, past and present, are actually models of waste segregation and
recycling systems. This kind of work has evolved from dumps and landfills.
on an MMDA research, prices paid by middlemen for recyclable materials often
vary substantially. The resale prices obtained by middlemen represent a 10 to
115 percent mark-up on the prices that they paid to the scavengers. Marku-ps of
at least 50 percent are common.
official Roger Dolores was a former construction worker working on the side as
scavenger before the disaster. In 1999, for example, he was earning P150 ($2.94)
a day from construction plus about P150-P200 from scavenging. Scavenging sent
his children to school and his family never missed three square meals a day.
without regrets now, he said that despite the promise of a daily income, he will
never go back to scavenging. “Hindi ko ipagpapalit ang malinis na hangin
ngayon, ang malinis na kapaligiran at maayos naming kalusugan (I won’t bargain
clean air, clean environment and good health)," he said.
has another job now.
of the Payatas health center confirm Dolores' fears. Former scavengers,
especially those working at the dump, were diagnosed or observed with many
health problems and other hazards including lack of sanitary eating, sleeping
and bathroom facilities; poor nutrition and air pollution from methane-fueled
fires. They also lacked medical care and were constantly threatened by diseases
due to mosquito and rat infestation near living quarters. While they had no
access to formal education they were highly vulnerable to crime, drug abuse, and
the Payatas dump is permanently closed, will they agree that new dumps and
landfills will open in other towns? Urban poor leaders Artiola and Dolores
flatly said, "No."
people from other towns should learn from our experience,” Artiola said in
Filipino “The government should not endorse dumps and landfills because these
are the conditions where the dangerous scavenging work evolves.”
on the other hand, said: “Recycling which is the good principle behind
scavenging can be done at household level. If only government provides
conditions and incentives to encourage waste segregation starting at home and
another system of segregated waste collection which ends at recycling, then
there will be no need for dumps and landfills."
volunteer of the Recycling Movement of the Philippines, Dolores has attended
several seminars on zero-waste management strategy. In 1997, he initiated a
recycling center in his community. He tried to convince the other villagers to
segregate their wastes. All kitchen wastes will be collected in drums to be
processed into hog foods. Plastics will be collected and assembled into throw
pillow fillings. Empty bottles and cans will be sold to factories for cleaning
remembered his neighbors joining his initiative. In fact, they had collected a
significant volume of recyclables at his recycling shop. Then they asked for
government assistance to lend them operational and expansion capital. But after
months of following up their requests, they got nothing.
the garbage they collected, they saw their efforts gradually wasted.
"Ang problema kasi," Dolores said, "ayaw ng gobyerno sa recycling. Paano? Kung sa dumpsite at landfill, may kumisyon ang kapitan ng barangay at mga opisyal ng City Hall kada truck ng basura (The problem is local officials don’t want recycling. But with dumps and landfills, barangay and city hall officials receive a commission from the garbage dumped by every truck)." Dump truck drivers themselves admitted they give P50 (or almost a dollar) as tips for every trip to Payatas. Bulatlat.com