Published front page at SunStar Davao
FIVE years ago at another residence, 53-year-old Bucana resident Nanay Violeta Bustamante defecated and urinated in old rice sacks and bags of cellophane. A mother of eight, she recalled how she and her children would sometimes go to the beach to attend to the calls of nature. Now five years later, what serves as her toilet is no longer the beach, but instead, the fish pond that she, along with other informal settlers, live around.
The pond which used to house fishes like bangus or milkfish for consumption is now a slough full of bags of feces and garbage.
Nanay Violeta is one of the informal settlers of Barangay 76-A Purok 22 San Isidro Kalubihan, Kabacan, who has no access to proper sanitation. Kabacan is an area which is part of Bucana, one of Davao City’s largest stretch of villages. Bucana’s 466 hectares of land is home to over 200,000 residents many of them fishermen, laborers, drivers, and other daily wage earners.
Nanay Violeta now lives alone, earning enough for her daily expenses from doing laundry, home massage, and pa-suhol or baby-sitting. Her house which she had assembled herself from assorted pieces of wood and tarpaulins has only a spread out rice sacks as a roof with no electricity and water connections. She buys water from her neighbor.
Barangay Bucana is part of the Philippine government’s Slum Improvement and Rehabilitation (SIR) Phase 1 project, which is a World Bank-funded urban poor mass housing program established in 1985. To date, it is home to informal settlers who live in shanties, and many of whom have no access to proper sanitation.
In a 2010 study by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) it placed the estimated unmet housing needs or backlog as of January 1, 2011 to 1.225-million housing units.
The bulk of this backlog, the report said, are intended for informal settlers households “comprising 57.15 percent while the doubled up households consisted 35.7 percent of the total unmet needs.” Doubled up households means houses that more than one family live in.
“Incremental needs from 2011 to 2017 averages about 729,000 households. Come 2017, total housing needs already reached 6.3 million households,” the report further said.
As of May 1, 2010, HUDCC estimates the backlog in Davao City at 27,774 households.
In 2010, the Davao City Council passed the Septage and Sewerage Management Ordinance, a legislation that orders local governments to provide communal toilets in villages inhabited by informal settlers.
Two years after, the NSSMP (National Sewerage and Septic Management Program) was approved. The program was said to be designed for the improvement of water quality and public health in the Philippines by 2020 by improving the ability of local implementers to build and operate effective wastewater treatment systems.
But the inaccessibility to proper sanitation for informal settlers, according to residents, has been a pressing issue for quite some time now, yet they still wait for a response from officials.
“They know about it,” Marilou Dumama, a resident of Kabacan, said referring to the barangay officials.
Marilou is the stepdaughter of the fish pond owner. She said she would often call out to children of the settlers as they defecate or urinate directly to the pond even in broad daylight.
She used to be one of the pond’s caretakers. Marilou narrated they used to grow fish for their personal consumption, until such time that they decided to stop their efforts, seeing that the fishes ate human feces.
But that is not the only problem, Marilou said. She claims that a septic tank from a nearby area excretes its waste directly to the pond, giving off a foul stench.
“Sa kabaho, minsan kabuhi-on nalang mi (Sometimes the foul smell would make us feel nauseous),” she said.
The only action taken, Marilou said, was fogging, a preventive action for dengue. But, she added, the fogging was sponsored by Korean health workers, and not from the barangay.
“Naa may bayanihan didto saluyo, pero diri wala gyud (They have bayanihan in some areas here, but never here in our place),” Marilyn said when referring to the mound of garbage filling up the pond.
Bayanihan is a Filipino term for “helping each other out.” It is considered a culture and also a trademark for Filipinos that residents will all come to help a neighbor in need.
The Asian Development Bank, in a 2009 study, said 58 percent of the country’s groundwater was contaminated by infectious waste coming from unsanitary septic tanks, wastewater discharge from industries, and runoffs from agricultural fields and dumpsites.
Michelle de Leon, a barangay official, admitted that one of Bucana’s problems is the lack of public toilets.
While for the Davao City Health Office (CHO,) Curtis Larrazaga, head of the sanitation division, said the lack of clean communal toilets is a sanitary and public health concern. “Without clean toilets, we can only expect infections and diseases,” Larrazaga said in an interview.
DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary Ramon Paje said that only less than 10 percent of the Filipino population is connected to piped sewerage, while over 20 million Filipinos do not have access to proper sanitation.
Paje also said that local governments must take the initiative of putting up their own sanitation and wastewater treatment facilities to prevent their constituents from dumping garbage into waterways and to avoid toxic sludge excavated from septic tanks reach the rivers.
Barangay Bucana was reported to have internal revenue of 30 million pesos for the previous year alone, with over 20 million allotted for public infrastructures and reforestation projects.
Nanay Violeta and the rest of the settlers are still waiting for help.