By Janina C. Lim

THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has suspended the operations of a garbage transfer station in Tondo, Manila for allegedly allowing the discharge of prohibited solid waste materials into Manila Bay.

The suspension order against Philippine Ecology Systems Corp. (PhilEco) followed the Environmental Management Bureau’s (EMB) probe which concluded that the firm violated certain conditions of its approved environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for its operation of the Vitas Marine Loading Station (VMLS) at Pier 18 in Manila.

PhilEco’s VMLS functions as a transfer facility for the waste materials collected in Metro Manila that, in turn, are transported by barge to the 40-hectare Navotas Sanitary Landfill, which is also operated by PhilEco.

“The PhilEco incident is just one of the many battles the DENR must squarely address in winning the campaign for Manila Bay under the mantle of the continuing mandamus order of the Supreme Court,” DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu was quoted in the agency’s statement over the weekend.

“It is high time that we strictly enforce the law on solid waste management no matter who gets hurt, otherwise we will continue to live in an unhealthy environment to the detriment of public health.”

The Environment chief personally inspected the firm’s loading station on Sept. 27, two days after the EMB came out with a notice of adverse findings (NAF) against the facility based on a recent ECC-compliance inspection which is conducted on a regular basis.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 3, PhilEco officers appeared in a technical conference called by the EMB to explain and contest the violations cited in the NAF and pledged to undertake further corrective measures on top of those which they immediately undertook following the cited violations.

The firm’s executives said the company had already backfilled its ponding area, installed liners, drainage pipes and runoff storage tanks at the transfer facility and begun a water clean up using two newly purchased trash-collecting boats.

PhilEco officials vowed to rehabilitate the facility’s 100-meter seawall, install a containment area for waste materials delayed for transfer during inclement weather and install litter fences around the facility — all this in a 60-day time frame.

Mr. Cimatu said PhilEco will “face up to the full consequences of their violations,” despite the immediate measures the firm took up.

“[T]he suspension will remain in effect until PhilEco is able to carry out all its commitment to address the problem and prevent a similar situation from happening in the future,” the DENR’s statement read.

The EMB had imposed a fine of P150,000 to PhilEco for violating certain provisions of its ECC.

These include the firm’s failure to meet the effluent standards for phosphate and total suspended solids as it was discharging untreated wastewater directly into the bay; for holding the collected waste materials at the Vitas transfer station beyond the mandatory 24-hour limit as per DENR Department Administrative Order 2001-34; and for allowing solid wastes in the shoreline as a result of poor housekeeping practices.