Training on Community-Led Research for Communities affected by Waste-to-Energy Project in Cebu, Philippines
By Carlo Manalansan
“In the next few days, I plan to take actions by spreading awareness to the youth and the community in Sta. Ana.” — Charelyn Monterde, Barangay Binaliw, Cebu City
Civil society and communities in Cebu, Philippines were dismayed by the impending entry of a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) project in the province. Social activists believe that the proposed WtE poses great health risk to the communities, especially vulnerable groups. As an island province in the Visayas region, people fear that the project would have adverse impacts on their fragile environment particularly on land and marine ecosystems which also serve as their primary sources of food and livelihood.
GAIA and other environmental and human rights organizations claimed that the WtE incineration is not an efficient source of energy as well as a climate mitigation measure. In fact, WtE incineration remains a hindrance toward decarbonization. Despite the presence of national policies banning incinerators in the Philippines, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through its technical cooperation has supported the proposed project.
The impacted communities
Like any other processes linked to development projects in the Philippines, access to relevant information and consultations amongst impacted stakeholders remain a challenge. The local government and project proponents have not conducted information and education activities. Communities were not involved in any discussion that talks about this project. Moreover, the proposed plan does not explicitly state the location of the WtE facilities making it hard to monitor. However, the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC) believes that the proposed WtE facilities will likely be set up in two areas — Barangay Binaliw, Cebu City and Municipality of Aloguinsan, Cebu Province.
In Barangay Binaliw, the ARN Central Waste Management Inc. presented proposals to the City Government of Cebu to convert the existing landfill they are currently operating into a Waste-to-Energy facility in order to address the waste management crisis in Cebu City and other neighboring municipalities and cities. According to PEJC, the City Government of Cebu has recently approved the resolution authorizing the City Mayor to sign the Joint Venture Agreement with New Sky Energy. However, no specific location of the project has been identified.
In the Municipality of Aloguinsan, the operating landfill has constantly violated the guidelines set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The DENR issued a Cease and Desist Order but the landfill has continued operations by accepting garbage from various towns in Cebu Province. There was also a proposal by the Provincial Government of Cebu to convert the landfill into a Waste-to-Energy facility. The landfill is operated by San Rafael Landfill Corporation — owned by the brother of incumbent Municipal Mayor of Aloguinsan.
Communities in action
Villagers in Barangay Binaliw and Municipality of Aloguinsan have already been complaining about the operations of the landfills. They have experienced foul odor, proliferation of flies and pests, and other inconveniences. Residents in Barangay Binaliw sent a letter of complaint and conducted several mobilizations to oppose the operations of the landfill. Likewise, communities in Municipality of Aloguinsan have filed a case but later on dismissed.
With the impending construction and operations of Waste-to-Energy facilities, communities fear that their situation would get worse. The proposal to put up a WtE facility in the Municipality of Aloguinsan could pose a serious threat to Tañon Strait — the biggest marine protected area in the Philippines. Fisherfolks, in particular, fear that their main source of food and livelihood would be destroyed if the proposed WtE project pushes through.
Apart from community-led responses, there have been initiatives from civil society groups and allies to campaign against the proposed WtE project in Cebu province. PEJC, for instance, has facilitated multistakeholder summit to consolidate different sectors and inform the public about the potential impacts of WtE project. The group also planned to do another round of multistakeholder dialogue to invite other groups of health practitioners, influencers, scientists, and artists who will be great allies in the campaign and advocacy against WtE.
Training to empower and mobilize
Taking a step forward to bridge the gaps in terms of capacities and campaign strategies, the International Accountability Project (IAP), GAIA Asia Pacific, and the Philippines Earth Justice Center (PEJC) organized a training on community-led research for community members in two areas — Barangay Binaliw, Cebu City and Municipality of Aloguinsan, Cebu Province from June 4 to June 12. The week-long training was held in Cebu City and attended by a total of 20 participants who have been active in advocacy activities against WtE and other environmental issues.
The training aimed at gathering information about community’s perception on the concept of development and the issues they face, documenting potential risks of WtE project on their socio-economic and environmental rights, popularizing community-led research as a mobilizing tool for communities affected by so-called development projects, and producing a data/output that will be used in local campaigns and advocacy work. The organizers used the modules in IAP’s Community Action Guide on Community-Led Research as main reference materials.
During the training, the participants particularly enjoyed the community and stakeholders mapping exercises. Through this activity, they were able to collectively picture out how their communities look like and what is at stake if the project is implemented.
They also participated in different simulation activities that helped them prepare for the actual community survey. These activities include creating their own survey tools, drafting their community action plan, and scenario building. After the training, the groups went back to their community to implement the survey.
Each team was able to accomplish 100 survey forms. They presented the key findings of the community survey. Based on the survey results, more than 70 percent of the respondents in both communities were not aware of the WtE project. In Barangay Binaliw, about 84 percent of the respondents said that they will not approve the WtE project, if given the chance. Most of the respondents in the Municipality of Aloguinsan were concerned about their lands because of their past experience with the construction of a factory that could harm their lands. They were brave enough in opposing the project and asserting their rights.
“Nice to see different strategies and encouraging the communities to come up with their own strategies. At least we were able to see the issue from their perspective…” — Atty. Joy Argallon, Philippine Earth Justice Center
Carlo Manalansan is the Southeast Asia Community Organizer at the International Accountability Project (IAP). He is also a photojournalist for Bulatlat — an alternative media organization in the Philippines.