The Department of Environment and Natural Resources - MIMAROPA Region, and the local government unit of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro joined forces to intensify environment protection efforts through a MOA-signing activity establishing the municipality as a local chapter of Tayo Ang Kalikasan (TAK) on January 10 at Seasons Hotel.

As the local chapter of TAK, San Jose shall strengthen through an ordinance it previously issued, waste segregation at source and prohibition of disposable or single-use plastics including plastic bags, utensils, cups, straws, and stirrers. The ordinance aims to reduce the volume of plastic wastes that eventually pollute portions of the Mangarin Bay and Pandurucan River, the town’s treasured bodies of water.

Data from river and coastal cleanup drives held during last year’s World Water Day in March and International Coastal Cleanup on September showed that plastics and plastic debris were still among the top wastes collected in Mangarin and Pandurucan. Aside from these, there are also plastic wastes in the 24 to 25 tons of trash generated by the town everyday.

As TAK chapter, it is envisioned that San Jose would be able to prevent degradation of the environment caused by plastic pollution.

TAK is the DENR’s campaign that engages communities as partners in addressing environmental issues and challenges. El Nido in Palawan and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro were also launched as TAK local chapters to improve solid waste management amid the islands’ ongoing rehabilitation.

“We are often reminded by Secretary Roy Cimatu that environment protection is not only the duty of the DENR or the LGU. It is everybody’s responsibility to take care of nature,” DENR MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado stated.

Reeling from the effects of Typhoon Ursula, the municipality of San Jose, led by Mayor Romulo Festin, welcomed the endeavor and showed its support by gathering close to 130 residents and leaders of barangays, partner agencies, the academe and non-government organizations in the capacity building and stakeholders’ forum held after the MOA signing.

“Kaisa tayo ng DENR sa pag-aayos ng ating kapaligiran. At bahagi ito ng ating tungkulin bilang Mayor, Barangay Captain, o Kagawad,” Mayor Festin said. Stressing the role of the LGU in implementing various environmental rules and regulations, such as RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and the corresponding penalties awaiting those who fail to fulfill their duties, the municipal chief said, “Pag hindi tayo kumilos, may nag-iintay sa atin sa Ombudsman.”

During the workshop, the DENR and EMB MIMAROPA presented major environmental problems--other than solids waste--that beset the historical municipality of San Jose: the failing water quality of Mangarin Bay and Pandurucan River; and violation of easement zones.

Based on water samples tested for fecal coliform, some portions of Mangarin Bay exceeded the allowable standard of 100 most probable number (mpn) for Class SB water per DENR Administrative Order 2016-08.

Though Pandurucan shall be subject to coliform test this year, its heavily silted and foul smelling water, the presence of informal settlers and pig pens that discharge wastes directly into the river, suggest the river may not meet Class B classification which means it is intended for primary contact recreation such as bathing and swimming.

“Perhaps some people may be able to tolerate the water. But considering the evident state of the river, those who are swimming or bathing in it are putting themselves at high risk,” Provincial Environment and Management Officer Alexander Coden explained.

Besides water pollution, the DENR and the LGU also identified the presence of commercial and residential establishments encroaching easement zones, violating the Water Code of the Philippines which prohibits occupation of river banks, sea shores and lakes within a zone of three meters in urban areas, 20 meters in alienable and disposable (A&D) land; and 40 meters in forest areas.

“We found illegal structures in Brgys. Caminawit, San Roque, Bubog, Poblacion III, Poblacion IV, Pag-asa and Bagong Sikat. There is a clear violation of the law that needs to be corrected in order for us to restore the environment,” CENRO Efren Delos Reyes of San Jose remarked.

For its part, the LGU has taken initial steps to clear the easement zones. It has started demolition of eight restaurants and bars built along the 20-meter easement in Brgy. San Roque. Two more establishments are up for demolition in the coming week.

The DENR is also set to finalize inventory of households and businesses occupying the buffer zones, which shall be issued Notices to Vacate. Should the occupants fail to demolish their structures or vacate the area, they shall be recommended for demolition by the LGU.

The implementation of these activities took off from the efforts of task forces established to rehabilitate prime tourist destinations in the country such as Boracay and Manila Bay. Likewise from El Nido, Coron, Puerto Princesa and San Vicente in Palawan, and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, which are all located in MIMAROPA Region. These activities shall likewise form part of the job of newly created Task Force for Occidental Mindoro headed by OIC- PENRO Ernesto Tanada. The Task Force shall spearhead the rehabilitation of problematic areas in San Jose.

“Definitely, many residents and business owners will be affected. But we do hope that they will fully understand that we are doing this to restore what has been damaged; to help them realize that they are also stewards of nature, and eventually for all of us to enjoy the blessings of nature, and bequeath to future generations, a healthy and clean environment,” RED Adornado noted.

“During the workshop, we have seen representatives from various sectors in the community who are more than willing to take active part in cleaning Mangarin Bay and Pandurucan River,” said Assistant Regional Director Vicente Tuddao, Jr. who facilitated the workshop.

“With that, we are positive that we have already hit the ground running to restore the town’s problematic areas. We look forward to seeing the municipality of San Jose as one of the country’s cleanest and best island destinations,” he concluded. (Photos from CENRO San Jose) ###