By Klyde Charles Lee P. Painor
Rows of colorful flowers made from recycled plastic bottles would greet Azaleah Pascual every time she walked around her home barangay in Cabanatuan City. There was not a piece of trash or plastic straw in sight.
However, taking a leisurely stroll around Barangay Pagas was quite different today compared to seven years ago.
“Dati, hindi naman masyadong napapansin yung Pagas. Ngayon, nakakatuwa na nag-improve na, maraming nangyari, marami na ring achievements. Nakatutuwa lang na maraming natulungan,” Azaleah, a young resident, said regarding the drastic changes that occurred through the time that passed. (Barangay Pagas was seldom noticed before. Today, it’s elating that a lot has changed and improved on top of achievements. It brings joy to know that many benefited from them.)
After traversing through the busy and tricycle-congested streets of Cabanatuan, one would reach the city’s green lung and pride in disaster preparedness: a low-lying barangay directly facing the Pampanga river, equipped to face the atrocities climate change is posing–Barangay Pagas, Azaleah’s home.
Reinventing Solid Waste Management
Barangay chairman Christopher Lee recalled that they faced a number of obstacles in laying out their vision of an eco-friendly barangay back in 2013. The prominent problem they encountered, he shared, was that the people were uninformed about proper waste management and existing ordinances.
“Napakarami nating batas, napakarami nating ordinansa pero sa totoo lang ay kulang ng implementation,” the barangay captain said, highlighting that Republic Act 9003 or Ecological Solid Waste Management Act still lacks implementation almost two decades after it was signed as a law. (We have many laws and ordinances, but, honestly, the enforcement is lacking.)
Fueled by their motivation to protect their environment, Lee, together with the local government unit (LGU) of Pagas crafted a plan to implement solid waste management properly. They started with educating their constituents about solid waste management and taught them ways of segregating garbage.
The administration also established five (5) Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) which are used by its four (4) puroks which receive, separate, and prepare recyclable materials in preparation for its shipment to recyclers.
Just recently, the barangay launched its project “Eco-Bricks.” In this program, households were asked to fill plastic bottles with other plastics ranging from shampoo sachets and toothpaste containers as a way to minimize waste, leaving only residual waste or the solid waste materials that are neither compostable nor recyclable, to be collected by the city’s garbage collection system.
Armed with good governance and strict ordinances, Pagas LGU succeeded in its vision to strengthen the practice of waste segregation and disposal.
Last 2018, Pagas won the search for the Cleanest and Greenest LGU (Model Barangay on Ecological Solid Waste Management) in Region III by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
There is gold in rubbish
Pagas’s strategy in solid waste management does not only cleanse the barangay but also benefits its students. Many households donate their kalakal (recyclable materials) to the LGU. The local government then sells the collected recyclables and uses the proceeds to give financial assistance to the students who live in the barangay.
According to Lee, 160 students have been assisted by the program. Now that the course of education shifted due to the pandemic, he said that they are using the P180,000 proceeds of the collection last year to donate supplies needed for distance learning.
Azaleah is among the scholars of the barangay. She said the financial assistance that the Pagas local government provided greatly helped its beneficiaries as it lessens the parents’ expenditure in their children’s education.
Coping with Nature’s Wrath
Being a low-lying area in the city, barangay Pagas developed a strategic disaster response to address the overflowing Pampanga River during typhoons.
The 53-hectare community of over 3,000 locals, is complete with equipment, facilities, and proper training for the citizens of the village. “Kailangang i-train hindi lamang ang mga rescuer, kung hindi pati ang buong barangay,” Lee said as he shared their system in disaster response. (Everyone in the barangay must be trained, not only the rescuers.)
Utilizing a siren that can be heard by the whole community, the administration was able to provide its people warnings and instruction: one long blast means that there is an impending disaster, two long blasts mean that everybody should prepare to evacuate, and three long blasts mean that one should stay inside because the situation outside is too dangerous.
Because of this, Barangay Pagas reigns, for the fifth consecutive year since 2015, as the Gawad Kalasag Regional Awardee, an annual award given by the Office of Civil Defense in search of outstanding contribution in the fields of disaster risk reduction and management and humanitarian assistance. Pagas extends disaster preparedness to other communities by conducting trainings.
Lee expressed concern regarding climate change which causes stronger calamities that directly affect the country and barangay Pagas in particular, adding that it is a huge problem and the people are bound to feel extreme aftermaths if they are not going to learn to unite.
He added that the education received by the youth should include disaster preparedness training as it will serve as an eye-opener for them.
For Pagas, encouraging other communities to give more attention to the environment is the next move. Progress is always the aim of this barangay and discipline has always been the key. The barangay has come this far, and they will reach farther distance and achieve greater heights in their quest for a sustainable, prepared, and eco-friendly community.*
This article was written and prepared by Klyde Charles Painor (Student-Journalist) and Anna Kristel Cuevas (School Paper Adviser) from Honorato C. Perez, Sr. Memorial Science High School, Division of Cabanatuan City as a final output of DepEd-DRRMS and AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Initiative: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.