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HomeLocal NewsBOTO 2022 | ISYU NUMERO UNO: BASURA or the Albee-Bing exchange over...

BOTO 2022 | ISYU NUMERO UNO: BASURA or the Albee-Bing exchange over garbage (Part 1 of 2)

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The first real exchange over a public issue has started between two protagonists here gunning for the top seat in this urban capital of more than half a million people who are now witnessing a simmering political atmosphere months before the official campaign period starts.

Former City Hall executives Rodel Parcon, 2nd from left, and lawyer John Orola, first at left, in a meeting of the Waste Amount Characterization Study in 2016. The publicist of Benirez sent this photo along with the rebuttal of the former solon to City Hall's claims.
Former City Hall executives Rodel Parcon, 2nd from left, and lawyer John Orola, first at left, in a meeting of the Waste Amount Characterization Study in 2016. The publicist of Benirez sent this photo along with the rebuttal of the former solon to City Hall’s claims.

The issue? Garbage.

“Truth is, Albee’s barking up the wrong tree over his failed solid waste management plan,” the headline of a news release from the Public Information Office on 19 January 2022 read as it cited the clarifications made by the new city administrator.

Today, 20 January 2022, the publicist of Benitez released his statement that said in its first paragraph:

“The claims made through the Bacolod Solid Waste Management Board by the camp of Mayor Evelio Leonardia released by the Bacolod City Public Information Office on January 19, 2022 are false, baseless, misleading, and are the farthest from the truth.”

The issue was triggered by the statement reportedly issued by Benitez during a virtual debate supposedly between him and Leonardia (who did not attend.

The PIO release said Benitez disclosed he had a “beautiful plan” in 2016 “for the Third District and Bacolod to put up a waste-to-energy facility, adding that he believed it could have been a good solution to the waste disposal problems of the Third District and Bacolod City combined.”

While Benitez did not directly mentioned Leonardia, the release said” (i)t was an allusion aimed at Mayor Evelio Leonardia but Benitez was barking up the wrong tree because the mayor in 2016 was Monico Puentevella, who is, ironically, related to the former Third District solon by affinity.”

” Former Congressman Albee Benitez was clearly barking up the wrong tree by blaming Bacolod City for his failure to build an incinerator plant to answer the solid waste management problems of the Third District,” it added.

Benitez, a Capitol consultant on energy, presented his plans during the debate but City Hall retorted that” Documents and timelines involving his proposal that eventually fizzled out six years ago, indicated that Benitez was telling half-truths when asked during the supposed Jan. 15 debate about his program on solid waste management if he is elected mayor.” as he further claimed in the same supposed debate-turned-talk show, that Bacolod City did not participate in the plan.”

Puentevella is married to Benitez’s close relative, the release also claimed.

The release also included nine points raised by City Administrator Edward Joseph Cuansing, who had served as a member of the Bacolod Solid Waste Management Board, which are quoted in full:

  1. The proposed project referred to by Mr. Benitez in his comments on January 15, 2022 is only one of the several waste-to-energy proposals received by the Bacolod City Government.
  2. The company that proposed that project for the 3rd district found that the volume of wastes from that area was insufficient for its technical viability. Hence, the invitation to the Bacolod LGU to join so that the combined waste volume needed would be met.
  3. The proponent-company was then allowed by the previous Puentevella Administration to undertake a technical review and assessment of the City’s landfill and garbage volume over a period of time.
  4. While no exit conference was held to inform the Bacolod LGU of the technical findings from that review/assessment, then Bacolod City Mayor Puentevella and other city officials were eventually invited to a project briefing at Silay City, with the 3rd district as lead convenor.
  5. After this presentation, the mayors of the LGUs who attended it were asked to sign a ceremonial commitment to participate in the project, which then Mayor Puentevella signed for Bacolod City. This is confirmed below by Mr. Ramel Palalon, incumbent Officer-in-Charge of the Dept. of Public Services (DPS) of Bacolod City, who attended that briefing with Mayor Puentevella.
  6. After that briefing in Silay City, the Puentevella Administration did not receive further communications from the 3rd district. There is no record that a follow-up Memorandum of Agreement among the intended LGU-participants was received by the Puentevella Administration from the lead convenor – – the 3rd district, for action by the Bacolod Sangguniang Panlungsod.
  7. Later reports indicated that the project had apparently fizzled out. It appeared that not all the LGUs in the 3rd district supported the plan.
  8. For its part, the Leonardia Administration consulted with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) on how to proceed with the several waste-to-energy project proposals submitted to the Bacolod LGU, as we were uncertain whether such waste disposal projects, especially those involving incineration, were in full compliance with RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) and RA 8749 (Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999). At that time, we were advised by the EMB/DENR to wait for the pertinent guidelines before entertaining any of these proposals.

This statement is being issued to clarify the facts about the participation of Bacolod City in that proposed joint project with the 3rd district.

However, Benitez issued a statement dated today, 20 January to refute the claims of City Hall.

We print it in full below:

Rejoinder of Mr. Albee Benitez

(on Bacolod Solid Waste Management Board’s undated Reply, released by the Bacolod City Public Information Office on January 19, 2022)

The claims made through the Bacolod Solid Waste Management Board by the camp of Mayor Evelio Leonardia released by the Bacolod City Public Information Office on January 19, 2022 are false, baseless, misleading, and are the farthest from the truth.

i. CLAIM: Project referred to by Mr. Albee Benitez is only one of the several waste-to-energy proposals received by the Bacolod City Government.

TRUTH: Mr. Benitez initiated and proposed the project to address the garbage problem of Bacolod City even if he was not an official of Bacolod City. At the time when the project was proposed to Bacolod City, Mr. Benitez has no personal knowledge of any prior or existing waste-to energy proposals. Instead, Mr. Benitez made such a proposal to Bacolod City, recognizing the City’s long-standing garbage problem. The project would have generated 10-12 megawatts of electricity for Bacolod City, at no cost to the City Government.

ii. CLAIM: Bacolod City was invited to join the project because waste volume from Third District was insufficient for the requirements of the project.

TRUTH: It is distasteful for the camp of Mayor Leonardia to insinuate that the reason why Mr. Benitez invited Bacolod City to join the solid waste management project was only to address the alleged “insufficient” waste volume requirement needed for the project. True the proposed project would have been more feasible and viable with the participation of Bacolod City, owing its high volume of garbage, the truth of the matter is the reason why Mr. Benitez included Bacolod City in the project was to promote the welfare of Bacolodnons by helping the City properly dispose its waste.

iii. CLAIM: The proponent company was allowed by Mayor Monico Puentevella to undertake a technical review and assessment of the City’s landfill and garbage volume.

TRUTH: The proponent company SURE Global W2Wi was indeed allowed by then Mayor Puentevella and the local chief executives of the five Local Government Units (“LGU”) of the Third District, Negros Occidental to conduct a waste amount characterization study (WACS) as initial step to determine feasibility of waste treatment facility to address the garbage problem in six LGUs.

The WACS was supported by the technical assistance fund of the Asian Development Bank and was completed after the 2016 national and local elections. Its approval or non-approval or implementation was no longer in the hands of former Mayor Puentevella but by the Leonardia administration who refused to commit to the project.

iv. CLAIM: No exit conference was held to inform the Bacolod LGU of the technical findings from that review/assessment, then Bacolod City Mayor Puentevella and other city officials were eventually invited to a project briefing at Silay City, with the 3rd district as lead convenor.

TRUTH: The final report of WACS study was completed in May 2016. However, due to the changes in leadership in six LGUs, a briefing on the final report was held for newly-elected mayors on September 1, 2016. Through separate letters dated August 22, 2016 and August 25, 2016, Mayor Leonardia was invited to attend meeting. Mayor Leonardia again failed to attend but was represented by Atty. John Orola, City Administrator, and Mr. Rodel Parcon, Executive Assistant to the Mayor.

v. CLAIM: After this presentation, the mayors of the LGUs who attended it were asked to sign a ceremonial commitment to participate in the project, which then Mayor Puentevella signed for Bacolod City.

TRUTH: The presentation to the Mayors of the LGUs transpired on September 1, 2016 during which time Mayor Leonardia was already in office. There was no signing of any document during the said meeting. The representatives of Mayor Leonardia did not indicate any form of commitment for the city citing lack of authority from Mayor Leonardia.

vi. CLAIM: The Puentevella Administration did not receive further communications from the 3rd district. There is no record that a followup Memorandum of Agreement among the intended LGU-participants was received by the Puentevella Administration from the lead convenor – – the 3rd district, for action by the Bacolod Sangguniang Panlungsod.

TRUTH: The project was conceptualized and initiated during the Puentevella Administration. However, the technical study report came after the 2016 elections during which time it was the Leonardia administration who took over. Despite full knowledge of the project, the Leonardia Administration did not show any semblance of interest in pursuing the same. SURE Global W2Wi even reached out to Bacolod City LGU directly – but for reasons known only to the Leonardia Administration, there was no commitment from Bacolod City.

Months later, the Leonardia Administration opted for a band-aid solution to address the garbage problem of the City by entering into a contract with IPM Construction and Development Corporation for collection, hauling and disposal of garbage in the Felisa landfill.

vii. CLAIM: The project had apparently fizzled out. It appeared that not all the LGUs in the 3rd district supported the plan.

TRUTH: ALL Mayors of the Third District were PRESENT in the briefing and committed to implement the project.

viii. CLAIM: Leonardia Administration consulted with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) on how to proceed with the several waste to-energy project proposals submitted to the Bacolod LGU, as we were uncertain whether such waste disposal projects, especially those involving incineration, were in full compliance with RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) and RA 8749 (Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999).

TRUTH: Bacolod City has LEGAL BASIS to proceed to implement the project. In 2016, National Solid Waste Management Commission issued Resolution No. 669, S. 2016, providing guidelines on establishment of WTE facilities for municipal solid wastes.

Moreover, the Supreme Court in its decision in MMDA v. JANCOM Environmental Corporation [G.R. No. 147465] stated that “[the Clean Air Act] does not absolutely prohibit incineration as mode of waste disposal; rather only those burning processes which emit poisonous toxic fumes are banned.”

Thus, Bacolod City has sufficient legal basis to proceed with WTE facility in partnership with Third District LGUs – but Leonardia administration DID NOT ACT on the proposal.

Mr. Benitez will never compromise with “half-truths” and settle with anything other than the whole truth.

One thing and one thing alone is clear, the problems on garbage collection and disposal persist in our beloved Bacolod City, causing harm to the environment and public health, because of inaction and failure of Mayor Leonardia to find long-term and sustainable solutions to the problem.

Finally, as the old adage goes, “don’t bark if you cannot bite.”

(To be continued)

Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.
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