SEN. CYNTHIA VILLAR Sustainable Communities
Building Eco-friendly and Sustainable Communities Senator Cynthia Villar urges LGUs and government agencies: ‘Everyone must be involved!’
BY CYNTHIA U. SANTIAGO
PHOTOS BY ED L. SANTIAGO
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, graced the Bulong Pulungan at the height of the Boracay issue, which sparked when President Rodrigo Duterte announced on March 6 that he would declare a state of calamity in Boracay. He also ordered the closure of the resort island for 60 days based on recommendations by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
It may be recalled that local governments in the area, who were supposed to develop and manage
the holiday island, have been blamed for not properly protecting Boracay from environmental
degradation. Establishments not complying with the country’s environment protection laws are
said to be transforming the country’s top tourist destination, famous for its powder-like white sand
beach, into what the President called a “cesspool.”
At the Bulong Pulungan, Senator Villar said that she and some senators visited Boracay in preparation for the Senate hearing on the issue. During their visit, she observed two major problems in the island: some business establishments have no connectioin to sewer lines and so their wastes are drained into
the sea; and some establishments have put up buildings beyond their property line, and even on wetlands. Senator Villar pointed out that wetlands—land areas saturated with water—have an important role in environment protection, because they serve as catch basins to prevent flooding in Boracay.
“Tanggal lahat. All establishments put up
on wetlands will have to be removed,” Senator
She called upon the local government units to cooperate with the national government’s effort to
implement laws to protect the environment. 10 questions One law, Republic Act (RA) 9003 or the
Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, passed in 2001, mandates the establishment of a National
Solid Waste Management Commission and Solid Management Board in each local government
unit, to be represented by public officials in their ex-officio capacity, and the private sector. The law says LGUs must divert at least 25% of all solid wastes from waste disposal facilities “through reuse, recycling, and composting activities.” The law further mandates LGUs to establish Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in each barangay or cluster of barangays designed to receive, sort, process, and store compostable
and recyclable materials efficiently. Apparently, Boracay is now in such a dire situation because the LGUs have not efficiently implemented the law.
“It is so easy to follow the law,” Senator Villar pointed out. “You can connect your establishment to the sewer line in just a week, or even just a day. We just have to have the will to implement the law.”
NO ONE IS ABOVE T HE LAW
Senator Villar also clarified the issue about her family’s business interests in Boracay—Vista Land, which owns Boracay Sands Hotel, and investments in Costa de la Vista, a residential condominium. Earlier, she had told media that she was not involved in the management of those properties. She said she had made sure that they are following the laws, lest she be embarrassed when she begins probe of the issue.
She reiterated that what the President had said about the total closure of Boracay was just a warning. “Sabi lang niya ’yon para sumunod lahat,” she said, explaining that without the President’s warning, it would be difficult to make everyone toe the line.
Senator Villar added that her committee recommends closure only of establishments not complying with the law. “Total shutdown of Boracay is like punishing those who are following the laws,” she added. Not to mention, depriving the country’s top tourist attraction of a hefty income during the summer, the peak season of tourism on the island.
EVERYONE MUST BE INVOLVED
The LGUs have a key role, not only in implementing the laws, but getting everyone to share in building environment-friendly communities.
For example, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is mandated to develop markets for items produced out of the recycled wastes. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) can train the jobless so they can work in the recycling factories. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), through its Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, can provide monetary benefits for those who will work in the factories.
The senator also shared her own initiative through the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (SIPAG), which has tapped the government agencies to help in transforming collected plastic wastes into school chairs. The Foundation has built a recycling plant in Las Piñas City, longtime bailiwick of the Villar family. The recycling plant can produce one chair from 24 kilos of plastic waste—such as sachets
and those used to wrap items bought in wet markets. The plant can produce a total of 1,000 armchairs per month.
“We have asked LGUs to establish such recycling plants in their areas,” Senator Villar said. The plant costs P5 to P8 million to build, which the senator pointed out, is a good investment. Aside from being a measure to protect the environment, the plant serves as an instrument for alleviating poverty as it provides jobs for the poor who are hired as factory workers.
"Senator Cynthia Villar observed two major problems in Boracay: some business establishments are not
connected to sewer lines and so their wastes are drained into the sea; and some establishments have put up buildings beyond their property line, and even on wetlands."
THE BASECO EXPERIENCE
As part of her environment advocacy, Senator Villar has led the cleanup of Baseco, a marginalized community at the port section of Tondo, Manila. She said some 5,000 out of 10,000 families or an estimated population of 60,000, have no toilets. So, they inevitably dispose of their waste into the Manila Bay.
MAKING POVERTY HISTORY
It may be an elusive, if not totally impossible dream, but making poverty history is one reason Senator Villar chose to lead one the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, which covers all matters regarding food production, food security, agro-business, education, technical services, agricultural support prices, and fisheries aquatic resources. “Majority of our poor are farmers,” Senator Villar pointed
out. “So if you are after poverty reduction, you do it in agriculture.”
She said the average income of a farmer is P4,500 per month, way below the prescribed minimum wage of P14,250. “Kailangan, pakitain pa sila. Increase their income,” she said.
She laments the perception that farming is not only backbreaking but also far from being lucrative. Thus, children of farmers are not motivated to pursue it. She adds that there may come a time when there will no longer be farmers—or farms—because it seems it is better to use the fields for other more profitable businesses.
The senator said, however, that contrary to common belief, food security does not depend on corporate-run farms. “It’s the small farms that feed the world,” she pointed out. “So, we are changing the mindset of the young, so they will see farming as a desirable occupation.”
A program, which presents great promise for farmers, is farm tourism. As mandated by Republic Act 10816, it aims to maximize the benefits that can be derived from agriculture and tourism. The law touches both the Committees of Environment and Agriculture headed by Senator Villar as it seeks to promote environmentfriendly, efficient, and sustainable farm practices—to provide alternative recreation facilities and farm tourism activities for families, students, and other clientele, as well as promote health and
wellness with high-quality farm-produced food. The law prescribes activities carried out on farms that will allow visitors to enjoy a farming or fishing experience, through education, recreation, or leisure.
In the same way as protecting the environment, just about everyone is involved in developing farm tourism. The law mandates the creation of the Farm Tourism Board composed of the Tourism Secretary as chair, and the Agriculture Secretary as vice chair. Members include the Trade Secretary, presidents
of national organizations involved in farm tourism— education institutions, federation of farmer coops, and tour operators’ association.
The law prescribes government linkages with corporations and instrumentalities providing financing programs to provide lending incentives for the development of farm tourism camps and
Indeed, not one person, not just one agency or institution can get the job done. “Everyone must be involved,” Senator Villar reiterated. And definitely, the local government units have a key role in making the dream come true.