Cimatu orders probe into Manila Bay discharge

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered an “urgent, thorough and full investigation” into the dumping into the Manila Bay of voluminous solid wastes coming from the marine loading transfer station of garbage operator Philippine Ecology System Corp. (PHILECO).

“It would be in the public interest to hold a full investigation to determine the liability of PHILECO to the fullest extent possible,” Cimatu said after he personally inspected PHILECO’s Vitas Marine Loading Station (VMLS) at Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila, on Wednesday.

Immediately after attending his confirmation hearing at the Senate, Cimatu went straight to the site to meet PHILECO officials led by their chairman, Reghis Romero.

This was after a regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), a line bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), came up with adverse findings against PHILECO involving its Tondo transfer station.

In a notice of adverse findings dated last Sept. 25 and signed by Director Vizminda Osorio, the EMB-National Capital Region noted several violations of the conditions in the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) that had been issued to PHILECO for the VMLS.

The EMB-NCR found that leachate from voluminous solid wastes dumped at the transfer station were directly discharging into Manila Bay. It also noted the presence of solid wastes along the bay’s shoreline.

The EMB regional office likewise pointed out the failure of PHILECO to meet the effluent standards for phosphate and total suspended solids and for discharging untreated wastewater directly into the bay.

The VMLS functions as a transfer facility for wastes collected in Metro Manila. The waste materials are transported by barge to the 40-hectare Navotas Sanitary Landfill, which is also operated by PHILECO.

Cimatu was apparently not happy with what he saw during the inspection. Aside from the garbage piles on the shore, the environment chief likewise noticed the presence of garbage along the 4-km barangay road leading to the VMLS.

“What I saw outside does not speak well of how the facility operates and it only behooves the operator to likewise address that problem,” Cimatu said.

“The situation here is similar to Payatas. Kaya nga pinasara ang Payatas dahil nakakasira sa kalikasan at kalusugan ng mga tao,” Cimatu said, referring to the Quezon City Sanitary Landfill which was ordered to stop operations last August due to numerous environmental violations and susceptibility to trash slide.

Cimatu said the DENR is now looking into how it can implement higher fines and more stringent penalties against companies and other entities that violate environmental laws.

“Let me reiterate that we need to have a mechanism that determines the full compensation cost for the damage made arising from environmental crimes, including violations of ECC conditionalities,” Cimatu said.

The EMB-NCR, in its notice of adverse findings, summoned PHILECO officials to a technical conference on Oct. 3 to discuss the issue.

The PHILECO officials were told to bring with them position paper or present contrary evidence at the hearing. “Should you fail to do so, it is presumed that you are waiving your right to be heard and the case shall be resolved on the basis of evidence on record,” the EMB-NCR told PHILECO executives.

Cimatu ordered the EMB to also invite to the technical conference representatives from concerned local government units and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to address the problem.

He said he would return to the site after the technical conference to see if there will be some developments.

The notice of adverse findings was a result of the compliance monitoring inspection conducted on August 9 by a team of local DENR officers.

            Aside from the discovered leachate, the monitoring team noted that PHILECO violated Section 25 (Guidelines for Transfer Stations) of Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 for storing waste materials in the facility beyond the 24-hour limit. This was also reiterated in Rule X Section 2 (Minimum requirements for establishing and operating Transfer Stations), of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the aforementioned law (DAO 2001-34). ###