New Philippine President Cleans House

By Michael Bengwayan

MANILA, Philippines, January 31, 2001 (ENS) - Alarmed by the worsening garbage problem in Manila which threatens to throw the country into a public health crisis, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has signed law which deals firmly with the mountains of trash in Metro Manila and is aimed at arresting similar problems throughout the country.

Arroyo assumed the presidency on January 21, ascending from her position as vice president after the impeachment of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The Solid Waste Management Act, Republic Act (RA) 9003 is the first legislation Arroyo signed as President in her uneasy term which is plagued by rumors of a coup and rumblings of dissatisfaction from former supporters.

The act establishes mechanisms of waste minimization, resource recovery, appropriate collection and transport services, and environmentally sound treatment and disposal of garbage. Until now, the country has not had a law which dealt with waste and garbage disposal management in a serious manner.

President Arroyo said the waste management law symbolizes the reforms her administration would like to implement which would produce immediate and concrete benefits in the daily lives of the Philippine people.

"The tragedy at Payatas (Quezon City) last year taught us this painful lesson. Even more tragic is the fact that the persons most vulnerable to environmental disasters are the poor," she said.

The Solid Waste Management Act stresses the importance of environmentally sound techniques of waste minimization such as recycling, resource recovery, reuse, and composting.

It provides for mandatory segregation of waste at the household level with collection vehicles having the appropriate compartments for the sorted wastes.

The law prohibits open dumping of solid wastes and the establishment of sanitary landfills for final disposal.

It requires recycling centers to be set up at every barangay (village level) nationwide.

The act provides for the integration of solid waste management concerns in the school curriculum starting in the elementary level.

It mandates an inventory of existing markets that recycle materials and composts. And it requires preparation of 10 year solid waste management plans by all local government units.

The law empowers local government units to actively pursue solid waste management systems in their areas of jurisdiction by providing them with whatever policy and technical support is needed.

Implementation of the act is expected to significantly reduce the volume of waste for final disposal, alleviating the current pressures on the capacity of sanitary landfills.

"It addresses major negative aspects of solid waste which discourage a community's hosting of a landfill. I am told no other country in the world has adopted this integrated ecological approach to solid waste management," President Arroyo said as she signed the bill into law.

The President thanked Congress leaders for their dedication and hard work in expediting the passage of the act.


One of three winning in the UN Environment Programme Millenium photo competition is of children swimming after recyclables in Manila's floating trash. (Photo by Hartmut Schwarzbach courtesy UNEP)
This move of the President was welcomed by environmentally conscious groups. Congressman Heherson Alvarez, founding chairman of the Earth Savers Movement and principal author of the measure, said the law will avert an impending garbage crisis. During the initial implementation of the measure, it is expected to rid Metro Manila of at least 60 percent of its garbage, equivalent to 3,600 metric tons of trash.

Speaker of the House of Congress Feliciano Belmonte urged relevant working committees of the House to approve other bills to modernize trash collection.

The garbage problem in Manila was expected to go from bad to worse since a local court stopped the planned dumping of garbage in San Mateo landfill. Residents opposing the dumping won a temporary restraining order against any dumping in their municipality.

Manila is becoming a very foul smelling city. Local governments have raised alarms against dumping garbage near water sources, but there is just no place that is adequate to accept the 8,000 tons of trash generated daily by Manila residents.

Surrounding provinces around Manila like Bulacan, Tarlac, Cavite and Rizal have sent strong warnings to Manila authorities that they will not welcome any garbage from the country's capital.

Arroyo came to power after an impeachment which toppled former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada She is an economist, educator, and journalist. Elected senator on her first entry into politics in 1992, in 1995 she garnered the largest number of votes ever received by any candidate for any position in Philippine history.

Daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo studied for two years at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, before graduating magna cum laude from Assumption College with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce. She later earned a Master of Arts degree in Economics from the Ateneo de Manila University, and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of the Philippines.

Arroyo entered government service as an assistant secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry during the Aquino administration. She was elected vice president in the May 11, 1998 elections and added the position of secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development on June 30, 1998.