Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje appealed to all local government officials to strictly comply with Republic Act No. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, to avoid a repeat of the collapse of a dumpsite in Baguio City that killed at least five persons.

At the same time, he said he will be meeting soon with Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo to discuss ways on how to enhance LGU compliance with the law.

“I will be meeting with Secretary Robredo regarding this matter of low compliance of LGUs to the Solid Waste Management Act. We really need to come up with a purposive approach of (enhancing) their compliance so as to prevent any more catastrophe such as this trashslide in Baguio City.” Paje said.

In separate interviews with ANC and DZMM, Paje said that as early as 2006, the DENR, through the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) which he chairs, has sent out notice of violations to more than a thousand local government units (LGUs) who have continually been operating open and controlled dumpsites.

Unfortunately, he said, while at the national level, the government is performing, the LGUs are not in compliance. “The DENR’s role is to help LGUs manage their garbage. At the national level, the government is performing, but the LGUs are not complying. Dapat kasuhan na talaga sa Ombudsman,” he stressed.

Since the law holds the LGUs primarily responsible for solid waste management in their areas of jurisdiction, Paje advised the local executives who do not have the capability to construct landfills to form clusters with other neighboring LGUs as this would be more feasible.

The environment chief said, however, that although there is indeed a legal issue with the Baguio tragedy, “now is not the time for finger pointing. The DENR has been working closely with the LGU and the provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (DRRMC) since the tragedy to address the problem, remove the trash and bring it to Capas, retrieve the bodies… We will tackle the legal issue later.”

Paje also committed to extend technical assistance in the construction of the retailing wall of the dumpsite.

Paje stated that the Irisan dump in which collapsed on Saturday (August 27) had been closed since 2008 and that “it has been acting as a materials recovery facility (MRF), a ‘transfer station’ where the LGU would sort recyclable and non-recyclable waste before bringing the latter to the landfill in Capas, Tarlac.”

He added that the tragedy may have been caused by an engineering problem. “Hindi sila naglagay ng daluyan ng tubig… Sa tingin ko, hindi sila naglagay ng labasan dahil the leachate would come out and they would still have to put up a collecting pan. Hindi nakaya ng retaining wall yung bumagsak na tubig (brought about by the heavy downpour caused by typhoon Mina), so ang nangyari, bumigay,” he said.

He further disclosed that the Irisan site had been identified as an area highly susceptible to landslides in a geohazard map of the province. He thus requested all LGU officials to review the geohazard maps distributed by the DENR to assess which areas are prone to floods and landslides to avoid similar future tragedies. “The maps identify areas of no-habitation zone, plus debris accumulation zones, kung saan ipinapakita na kapag tumibag ang lupa, dun (sa lugar na iyon) itatambak ang lupa,” he said.

The DENR chief reiterated that the problem of solid waste management remains a responsibility of each Filipino citizen, and that the best way to address it was to ensure segregation at source. It is estimated that with every household practicing waste segregation at home, only 30 per cent of waste would actually be dumped in landfills nationwide.

Under the law, the establishment or operation of open dumpsites is punishable with a minimum fine of a Php500,000. LGU officials can also be charged administratively in accordance with RA 7160 or the Local Government Code.