POSTSCRIPT / June 11, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec should never be bipartisan, but nonpartisan

ABALOS ENTERS SNAKEPIT: We wish MMDA chairman Ben Abalos good luck and boundless patience as he walks, as new chairman, into the snake pit called the Commission on Elections.

One lesson we’ve learned from the bumpy stint of outgoing chairman Alfredo Benipayo is that the Comelec, with its overload of lawyers, is in dire need of a good manager. (The Constitution requires that majority of the seven commissioners be lawyers!)

Also, everybody needs reminding that the Comelec was never meant to be bipartisan, but nonpartisan.

With his rich background in politics and management, Abalos appears to have a better chance than Benipayo of untangling the mess in the Comelec plagued by factionalism, mismanagement and corruption.

We’re straining to see if the majority faction (four out of seven commissioners) composed of appointees of former President Erap Estrada and led by Commissioner Luz Tancangco would discard their illusion that they have an oppositionist function and give Abalos a chance.

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ARMCHAIR CRITICS: It is so easy from one’s armchair in Manila to berate our soldiers fighting and dying in the jungles of Muslim Mindanao and ridicule their final attempt last Friday to rescue hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

Huwag naman.

The death of two of the three remaining hostages and the escape of an Abu Sayyaf leader from the scene of encounter between the terrorists and our troops in Zamboanga del Norte are not enough reason to condemn the operations as a failure.

We have to concede that our soldiers, despite their well-known logistical limitations, were able to track down the Abu Sayyaf band holding the hostages far from their base, forced contact, and put an end to the hostage problem hampering full-scale operations for the past one year.

Note than the US government and the family of the slain American missionary went out of their way to praise our military operating under difficult circumstances. (Six soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, in the rescue attempt. Four Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed.)

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SOLDIERS’ MORALE HIGH: Ironically, there have been favorable report and comments in media abroad, contrasting with the negative comments in Manila.

Local critics take off from the death of missionary Martin Burnham who used his body to shield his wife Gracia from the bullets flying around and the escape of an Abu Sayyaf leader as if these were absolutely avoidable under the circumstances.

The result of that operation was not totally pleasing to some of us, but in a war situation as draining as the year-long Abu Sayyaf campaign, our weary soldiers deserve some support from their countrymen.

We’ve received word from the field that our soldiers are upbeat. Let’s not dampen their morale as they prepare to step up their pursuit of the enemy.

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ABALOS OUT OF GARBAGE: We wonder how the moving of Abalos from the MMDA to the Comelec would affect the solving of the massive garbage problem of Metro Manila. What will happen now to the initiatives of Abalos in this direction?

To put the problem in perspective, we asked Gideon Javier (Harvard MBA), head of the Clean Air Coalition, to do a situationer. Gideon, son of slain leader Evelio Javier of Antique, works closely with Bantay Kalikasan ABS-CBN Foundation, the Concerned Citizens Against Pollution, the Smokey Mountain Resource Recovery Center, and the Recycling Movement of the Philippines. His piece:

“The garbage crisis carries on like the sickness in our economy — we thought we had seen the worst of the problem but it has gotten worse since the days in which it got more headlines.

“There are two garbage crises actually — the collection problem (many areas are bypassed by the garbage collectors) and the disposal problem (we are running out of places to put the garbage).

“The collection problem comes because of the different abilities of different areas to actually have garbage trucks come by. A lot of that can be attributed to City Hall’s efficiency or relation with the neighborhood, but most of it is economics.

“Rich neighborhoods are less likely to have a garbage collection crisis for two reasons — they can pay the trucks for their garbage and their garbage is more valuable to the guys making money on the collections.

“If you can observe a garbage truck making its rounds, you will notice a couple of guys riding in the waste-carrying compartment who immediately pull out the most valuable things — aluminum cans, discarded clothes and what have you. The load then gets dumped in an area where another group has paid good money — P500 per person per week — to sift through the fresh-from-the truck garbage before getting transferred to another group down the line.

“This economic system looks down on squatters garbage that contains much fewer valuable things and that is why certain neighborhoods and areas — like C-5 where the squatters are — don’t see their garbage collected.

“Once in a while though, we will see garbage in truly conspicuous places — like the islands of EDSA — but that normally means someone needs some justification to open a garbage dump somewhere and needs public opinion in Metro Manila to work in his favor.

“To be fair to the garbage collectors, they have to maximize their economic value because — I cannot confirm the hours are correct with 100 percent certainty but nonetheless I am sure that this holds fairly true — one garbage collection cycle (filling up an empty truck with three or four tons of garbage, taking it to say Payatas, then lining up at the landfill gate, waiting to get a dumping certificate and then coming back to the route) can take 10 hours! Most of that time is spent waiting by the dump.

“What’s really significant in the crisis over the past few years has been the closure of Carmona, then San Mateo, and Payatas — the centralized sites which handle most of Metro Manila’s garbage.

“A crisis is an inflection point where the protagonists face a decidedly worse state of affairs in the future — when these three places started to close. The crisis which faced us as we foresaw it was garbage on the streets, garbage in the canals, garbage everywhere, and that was the crisis manufactured for us to convince us to maybe steamroll the poor islanders of Semirara with all our garbage.

“Things have gotten worse — not in the way we were scared into believing, but in that the damage was spread out. With the lack of a centralized place to put garbage — the cities have been establishing smaller hidden dumpsites.

“Smaller is a relative term here — the way a hippo is smaller than an elephant. These dumps can masquerade as proper sanitary landfills. Mayor Cuerpo’s Montalban “ssshanitarhy landfeeel” has a “leachate treatment system” made up of three concrete pipe sections. Insanely septic R-2 builders operates one in a Navotas fishpond, percolating all that leachate through the neighboring fishponds and Manila Bay. I wonder what happens when it floods.

“Without trying to sound like proponent for anyone, let me make the following contention: All societies maintain public hygiene by isolating their waste from their people. RA 9003 has it right. You educate on composting and recycling. You reduce volume but you address the fact that there is still a lot of stuff we can’t make disappear which you address.

“Starting with dumps, progressing to controlled dumpsites and on to a sanitary landfill, a society has to agree to put all its waste in a central facility open to public scrutiny and proactively institute environmental protection measures as the society is best able to.

“The Japan International Cooperation Agency recommended precisely that for us four years ago and when it drew up a solid waste management plan for Manila. I read the creature in full — not something for the easily bored but it makes perfect sense. That report incidentally became the basis for the bidding for the solution that was to solve the garbage crisis two years ago.

“So why a garbage crisis if we knew what we were doing? At fault of course is our dear dear friend Jancom who has been able to wrest a ruling out of the Supreme Court whereby President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo doesn’t have to sign the Jancom contract but she can’t sign with anyone else. Jancom has thus tried to frame the question to the garbage crisis as ‘sink under your own trash or give us the contract.’

“The real question, however, is if we know the right way to handle something critical to the well-being of our society and someone stands in front of it, what do we do with him?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 11, 2002)

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