Called the Green Police, they wake up on the wee-hours of the morning and proceed to the waste collection area as early as 5:00 AM to make sure that bags of garbage brought there by residents are properly segregated.
It has been six years now since they committed to this responsibility, and they have not lost enthusiasm. They are grandmothers and mothers organized by the Bontoc municipal government through the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO). They have responsibilities at home and office work, they have businesses to run and rice fields to attend, but they have the time and commitment to waste management. They do not see it as a burden.
This has become routine to the women in the four central villages of Bontoc – barangays Samoki, Caluttit, Poblacion and Bontoc Ili – for an hour every morning, to ensure that garbage is segregated and the public are informed on how to properly segregate their waste. This is their initiative and contribution to solving the garbage problem in the capital town. For many years, Bontoc used to operate an open dump site in Matoytoy-ok, Caluttit above the Chico River until the Kalinga Anti-Pollution Action Group (KAPAG) filed a Writ of Kalikasan at the Court of Appeals against the municipal government in 2012. The municipality, acknowledging its obligation to observe the prohibition of the operation of a dumpsite as mandated by Republic Act (RA) 9003 and its environmental impact, boldly decided to close the open dumpsite.
Voluntarism: How the Green Police Started
The Green Police were neither chosen nor hired by the municipal government to solve the garbage problem in Bontoc. They are women who volunteered their time and effort without expecting monetary compensation or reward. When the municipal government sponsored a training for Green Police in June 2013, these women enthusiastically responded and signed in.
Aurelia P. Ofo-ob was one among those who got interested and attended the seminar. Together with other participants, they were trained on how to re-use and recycle cellophane, turning these into bottled bricks, flower pots, table cloth, bags, wallets and cellphone cases, among others.
The knowledge and skills that Aurelia and her co-participants have acquired were then utilized after the training. It was the beginning of a bigger responsibility. Among themselves, they united and agreed that they need to act. With the guidance from the MENRO, the Green Police came into action.
Change is not easy. It cannot happen overnight. The same with making the public segregate their waste at home or at their business establishments before bringing it to the waste collection area. This was the first problem encountered by the Green Police when the “Segregation at Source” and “No Segregation, No Collection” was implemented by the municipal government.
Aurelia, a member of the Green Police in Samoki and detailed at the waste collection area along the road in Kalonglong, narrated the struggle they had to face every time garbage was collected and how they cope with it.
When the segregation of biodegradable, non-biodegradable and residual wastes was introduced, not everyone was responsive to this. Even with the massive information and education campaign by the municipal government on garbage management, some stubbornly brought their garbage unsegregated, others half- heartedly segregate their waste when asked by the Green Police at the collection posts, and there were few who irresponsibly stressed that ”garbage is garbage, so leave it as it is.”
Still, the Green Police stood their ground and patiently explained to the residents the reason for the strict implementation of solid waste management policies. Like teaching a child the alphabet, the Green Police patiently showed and taught the public proper waste segregation practices. Their task for the day did not end with policing those who brought their garbage at the waste collection posts.
“We leave the collection area when the garbage truck leaves with all the garbage then we knock from door to door to check their garbage bins and remind them of the schedule of garbage collection and proper waste segregation,” Aurelia relayed.
As per observation, those who are staying as transients and in boarding houses were the common violators of the policy to segregate at source and the schedule of bringing out their garbage. Some even brought their unsegregated garbage to the waste collection posts the night before the schedule.
The garbage would be scattered by stray dogs. The Green Police, uncomplainingly, would sweep and collect the unsegregated garbage irresponsibly left by the public.
The Green Police do not complain. It is their commitment, five times a week, doing it for free. And they will not back out. But they stress that compliance to garbage segregation and disposal is a shared responsibility of every one.
Thus, the Green Police appealed to those who live near the garbage collection area to help them by reporting those who dump their garbage outside of the garbage collection schedule and report it to the Green Police and/or barangay officials concerned.
Since the Green Police started this vocation, improved compliance by the public may be observed. Now, rarely does the Green Police see scattered garbage, rarely do they see unsegregated garbage, and rarely do they hear complaints from the public.
Additional responsibilities were given to them, and they accepted it with gusto. The Green Police were given the green signal by Bontoc Mayor Franklin C. Odsey to issue citation tickets to those who litter, spit, as well as those establishments and persons who use styrofoam and plastic bags for dry goods.
Partners for Change
The municipal government recognizes the role of the Green Police in bringing order to garbage.
For health, sanitation and safety, they were each provided by the municipal government a pair of boots, gloves and a flashlight. Apart from this, they were also provided uniforms including a vest and a jacket to keep them warm especially when they go out in the early morning.
Recognizing their industry, patience and dedication, Mayor Franklin C. Odsey and the Sangguniang Bayan in 2016 gratefully allocated from the municipality’s annual budget a P1, 000.00 honoraria per month of every member of the Green Police. This increased to P1, 200.00 a month in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Even with this token appreciation of their efforts, the Bontoc Green Police say they continue help in waste management, not for fame or reward. They also do not take all the credit on how garbage disposal was put in order. What matters to them is that people opened their ears to listen and opened their eyes to see that everyone has a part in finding a solution to the garbage problem. They are more than happy that they made a difference in the attitude of the community towards garbage.
What an achievement which the Green Police deserves glory and honor! This noble action of our Green Police may be small, but its impact to the Bontoc community is gargantuan.
By Alpine L. Killa, Bontoc