Our shame and disgrace

To our utter shame and disgrace, Philippine rivers have been found to be the biggest contributors of plastic wastes in the ocean, with the Pasig River topping the list of more than 1,600 polluting rivers around the world, a study in the Science Advances journal shows.

Our shame and disgrace

At least 19 rivers in the country, including Pasig, Tullahan, Meycauayan, Pampanga and Libmanan rivers, were identified in the top 50 waterways that emit plastic, which are ranked based on the annual amount of plastic waste flowing into the ocean.

Published in the journal Science Advances in April, the study showed that more than 1,000 rivers across continents account for nearly 80 percent of global riverine plastic emissions

The study showed that rivers in the Philippines contribute over 356,371 metric tons (MT) of plastic waste to the ocean annually. Topping this list is the 27-kilometer Pasig River, which snakes across the densely populated Metro Manila. It contributes over 63,000 tons of plastics, funneled through Manila Bay, to the ocean every year.

“The largest contributing country estimated by our model was the Philippines with 4,820 rivers emitting 356,371 MT [of plastic] a year,” the study says, representing 8.8 percent of the total generated mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) in the country. The country’s plastic emissions were almost three times more than the next worst polluter, India (126,513 MT a year), and almost five times more than Malaysia (73,098 MT a year), which was in third place.

Who is responsible for this dismal state of affairs? There is much blame to go around.

Surely, environmental officials from a succession of political administrations have failed miserably to curb the Filipinos’ tendency to dump their garbage into waterways. A series of rehabilitation programs for the Pasig River dating back to the martial law years through a succession of administrations that followed all failed to revive a river that was declared biologically dead by the 1990s.

Where, we wonder, did all the “Piso para sa Pasig” donations go? Down the drain, most likely.

The San Miguel Corp. says it has embarked on a five-year, P2 billion effort to clean up and rehabilitate the Pasig River. Only time will tell if this will yet be another failed attempt that sounded good on paper.

The current administration has fared no better than its predecessors, with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources squandering millions of pesos, not on a rehabilitation program for our rivers, but to “beautify” Manila Bay by dumping on its shoreline artificial white sand that washes away with each succeeding typhoon. Talk about misplaced priorities.

The ultimate blame, of course, rests on the shoulders of the people who continue to dump their garbage into our waterways. These include squatter families who build their homes, conveniently, right beside rivers, where they can bathe, do their laundry—and dispose of their garbage all in one place. The Filipino term for this kind of disregard for the cleanliness of our surroundings is “baboy”--a reference to pigs who like to wallow in the mud. This is ultimately unfair to pigs, of course, since they don’t really know any better—and we should.

Topics: plastic wastes , Pasig River , “Piso para sa Pasig” , San Miguel Corp.
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