Another epidemic may just be waiting to happen in Metro Manila. There are two reasons for this. First is the absence of a sewerage system for the 15 million daytime population of Metro Manila. Second is the absence of a sanitary landfill for the humongous garbage of Metro Manila.
Metro Manila has no metropolis-wide sewerage system connecting households and establishments to sewage treatment plants. The two water companies were mandated under the Clean Water Act of 2004 to put up a sewerage system within five years from the effectivity of the Act. This was apart from the obligation of the two companies to put up a sewerage system as required in their concession contracts. In August 2019, the Supreme Court found that the two water companies completed only 20 percent of the sewerage system that the Clean Water Act mandated.
Today, 80 percent of the sewage of 15 million people in Metro Manila are simply dumped into rivers and esteros that flow into Manila Bay. The Supreme Court called Manila Bay “the widest septic tank ever made by Filipinos.” The Supreme Court fined the two water companies about P921.46 million each, plus an additional daily fine of some P322,102 each until they comply with their obligation under the Clean Water Act.
Metro Manila generates about 10,000 metric tons of garbage every day. About 55 percent of this garbage is dumped in open dump sites, in Metro Manila or in surrounding provinces. The remaining 45 percent is dumped by garbage haulers anywhere they can dump the garbage. These open, as well as random, dumpsites leak streams of leachate, a highly toxic substance that contaminates our aquifers.
There is only one real sanitary landfill in the country that complies with the Solid Waste Management Act, and it is located in New Clark City. None of Metro Manila’s garbage is brought to this sanitary landfill, where the truck, loaded with garbage, is weighed as it enters the landfill. The sanitary landfill operator is paid per ton of garbage disposed of.
A study has found that “none of the waste entering the active disposal sites is weighed, and everything is estimated through visual observations of the trucks entering each site.” This is, of course, fertile ground for under-deliveries or even ghost deliveries. Garbage collection contracts have become a lucrative source of campaign funds for local elective officials.
That is why no Metro Manila city wants to dispose of its garbage in a sanitary landfill where the garbage will have to be weighed. It is high time to change this. In the next elections, Metro Manila residents should vote only for candidates who commit to either put up a government sanitary landfill, or dispose of the city’s garbage in a private sanitary landfill, that is compliant with sanitary laws.
In 2009, when Typhoon Ondoy brought torrential rains to Metro Manila, enormous amounts of garbage suddenly floated with the flood waters. Those were the garbage disposed of randomly by garbage haulers. The flood waters lifted the garbage from their shallow dump sites. Likewise, the garbage dumped in open dumpsites were also washed away by the flood waters.
The sewage and garbage end up in Manila Bay, which today remains a major source of fish for Metro Manila residents. In fact, Manila Bay, with an area of 1,800 square kilometers, is still one of the premiere fishing grounds of the country. Along the coast of Manila Bay, there are over 55,000 hectares of fishponds.
Manila Bay today is one big septic tank and garbage dump. The total coliform in several areas of Manila Bay, and in adjacent aquaculture farms, far exceeds the allowable levels. There is a cycle to all of this. The sewage and garbage of Metro Manila residents that end up in Manila Bay are eaten by all kinds of fish in Manila Bay. The fishermen who catch the fish sell the fish to vendors in various markets in Metro Manila. The same residents who generated the sewage and garbage buy the fish and eat them. Then the cycle starts again.
This vicious cycle will one day likely spawn an epidemic, and when it does, we will know whom to blame—ourselves for allowing it.