Down and dirty
It’s common for Manila Bay to disgorge trash after a storm. When the rain dies down, the wind dissipates, and the churning waves are calmed, residents of and visitors to Manila are presented a most disagreeable sight: a mishmash of garbage that includes all the known detritus of human life, and then some. And the garbage trucks begin what has become routine, working well into the night: collecting and hauling the trash in long round-trips, ton upon ton of it.
As though to complete the theme of trash in this rainy season, the recent All Saints/Souls holidays were likewise sordidly marked: The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) hauled 168 truckloads, or 1,008 tons, of garbage from 23 resting places of the dead.
There seems to be no hope, and the Ecowaste Coalition, continuing its thankless mission of monitoring the metro’s level of squalor, was once again dismayed. Said its national coordinator Aileen Lucero: “The culture of throwing discards wherever and whenever it is convenient again spoiled our time-honored tradition of remembering our departed relatives. Many people still litter, rain or shine. The repeated reminders from government, church, and political and environmental leaders were no match for these hardened litterbugs.”
While the 168 truckloads appear to be an improvement from the reported whopping 308 truckloads in 2015, the number will most likely rise as it does not include the additional tonnage from the total cleanup operations up to yesterday, according to MMDA Metro Parkway Cleaning Group head Francis Martinez, as well as reports from the cities of Las Piñas, Malabon and Muntinlupa.
Of the 15 public and private cemeteries it monitored, the EcoWaste Coalition recorded “rampant littering” in the Bagbag Cemetery in Quezon City, Caloocan Public Cemetery in Caloocan City, Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City, North Cemetery in Manila, and South Cemetery in Makati City.
Bagbag Cemetery was apparently the “most trashed.” It was, said Lucero, “the most pitiful sight we have seen during our ‘Undas’ trash monitoring this year.” In fact the EcoWaste Coalition identified it as among the dirtiest cemeteries in 2015, along with the North and South Cemeteries.
It’s the same old, down and dirty story of leftover food, disposable food and beverage containers, cigarette butts and soiled paper inundating what should be sacred grounds. The EcoWaste Coalition correctly points out that this liberal littering is senseless, inconsiderate, and dangerous to the health of the public, including the street sweepers and haulers who have to clean up the mess. Here’s EcoWaste Coalition campaigner Tin Vergara’s lament just last year: “Instead of leaving flowers and prayers, many cemetery visitors left their trash with no sense of environmental responsibility. Some may think doing this is tolerable as there are sweepers to clean up after them. We say this is not acceptable as littering desecrates the cemeteries and disrespects the dead as well as the living.”
Littering is the ugly side to Filipino religiosity, as witness the dismal aftermath of the yearly tumult that is the Black Nazarene procession, or “traslacion,” in Quiapo, Manila. One such “trash-lacion” generated 35 truckloads, or 367 tons, of garbage in only one day on a 7-kilometer stretch. To truly aggravate matters, some devotees damaged the portable toilets set up on Katigbak Street in the course of climbing over them to get a better view of the procession. And unbelievably, “despite the availability of portable toilets, we also found some plastic bottles filled with urine,” the EcoWaste Coalition’s Lucero said.
This is how bad it has become: As sure as sunrise, occasions of remembrance and piety are marked by the gross leavings of everyday existence. And we don’t seem to have a prayer that this wretched habit can be defeated.