By DOODS M SANTOS
JUST LAST YEAR, I took early retirement from a 17-year stint in Imperial Manila to return to the Bicol region for good.
The money was good, but I felt I was getting too tired to weave through jeeps, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians blind to traffic signs.
I was no longer willing to court leptospirosis wading in perennial floods, risk electrocution on the LRT rails every time the train broke down, or suffer lacerations when even the cheapest trinket was torn off my neck while walking.
Then there was the garbage.
The sight of plastic bags with straws, torn chips bags, candy wrappers, pet bottles, cigarette butts, and dog poop assailed me every day. Not only was the air polluted; so was the cityscape.
Time to pack my bags and hie off to the countryside, I thought, where the air is fresh and the trash is green.
Such expectations were blasted within my first month back in May 2011.
The same plastic bags, wrappers, and pet bottles lined the highway and even blew across the rice fields from Bagumbayan boundary to Canaman centro! A young woman in a nurse aide’s uniform casually tossed a plastic bag she had been sipping a drink from as she got off a padyak. Housewives burned plastic along with sanitary napkins and other household trash early in the morning.
The air that used to smell of fresh sod wafted the rotting smell of garbage, especially after rain.
When typhoon Bebeng punctuated summer last year, a part of Panganiban road was waist-deep, as were the streets around SM Naga, Dayangdang, Igualdad, Barlin, Calauag, and Karangahan.
A regional paper bannered the rise in crime, and my neighbors and I have been victims of robbery ourselves.
The blight of Imperial Manila had alas, come in the wake of malls, food franchises, taxis, and SUVs.
The good news is, we can do something to reduce the urban blight in our “Kingdom of Kindness” and “Maogmang Lugar” so that Naga (and hopefully CamSur) can really Smile to the World.
Let’s start small with one step we can address immediately, garbage.
Buy fresh, if possible, and bring your own containers and bags to the street vendor and market.
Do the same thing if you buy cooked food. Refuse styro and plastic! I do this at the market, mall, department store, bakery, even sari-sari and drugstore.
I stuff medicines into my handbag and bring a basket for eggs, garlic, onions, and pan de sal when I buy them from a neighbor’s store.
The first two times I brought in my bag and empty containers to E-mall, the guards asked me to turn them in at the check-in counter.
They eventually, if hesitantly, allowed me to bring these in when I told them what they were for.
The staff (except for a newbie) no longer find it strange when I insist that the fish and meat be put in my containers, or refuse plastic bags for fruits.
I ask them to attach the price tags right on the bunch of bananas, papaya, or orange. I return plastic egg cartons. Customers in line, cashier, and guard inevitably remark positively at my neat pile of fresh food and recycled bags.
I wonder though if I could persuade them to do the same thing as I seem to be the only one in line with such containers.
Or do we need a law against plastic bags as in Pasig City?
I have had a more pleasant experience at Lehman’s on Magsaysay Avenue.
They actually give me a small discount for bringing my own containers and bags. You can bet I continue to patronize the place.
Not the SM supermarket though. The guard absolutely barred my obviously empty containers.
So I went up to the Management Office, lectured them nicely about what should be their advocacy, and pointed out that how they could be a major culprit in the flood surrounding their establishment.
I spoke softly, but carried the big stick of speaking the elite’s tongue and flashing a famous university’s ID card, mea culpa.
I was allowed to bring in my containers that afternoon, but next time I tried to shop there, was again barred from bringing in my containers.
I have since then quit shopping for fresh food at SM and now stick to the more ecologically friendly public markets, Lehman’s and Emall.
The food franchises are not so used to having their styro packs rejected either, but my felicitations to Bicol’s own Bigg’s for shifting to cardboard boxes for ‘takeaways'.
Perhaps schools can institute “No to styro” campaigns in their own campuses, with students extending this to their families and establishments they patronize, as well as solicit their LGU’s support?
For example, Ateneo de Naga’s Development Communication students had a Balik-Bayong campaign in the late 1980s.
One of the students in this campaign eventually became a teacher, and set up Operation Kalinigan for Mariners Polytechnic in the late 1990s when one of the Requejos was mayor.
They went around the barangays of Canaman, teaching the residents about waste management.
Canaman and other LGUs, what about doing this again, including in the middle class villages?
I myself will campaign for green-minded, ecologically green that is, candidates next election, as long as they are matino and magaling also of course, per Jess Robredo’s criteria.
Admittedly, the most challenging arena for waste management is the household, and I mean here one’s own family members.
I sometimes feel like I’m in Payatas, picking out medicine cartons and clean paper packaging from the bag reserved for biodegradable trash.
I add these to the newspapers, cans, and bottles to help our friendly dyaryo plastik bote collector.
As my friend Gigi always ends her email: “I am treading lightly and making changes to reduce the impact I have on our shared environment.”
– Bicol Mail