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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, March 20, 2018
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia



Boracay Island is in danger of being shut down for an entire year after President Duterte called it a cesspool.

Aside from the problems with easement violators that have been making what should be one of the best beaches in the world look ugly and over-commercialized, the biggest issue that justified the cesspool tag would be its problems with the untreated wastewater that is apparently being discharged by a lot of the island’s establishments into its pristine blue waters.

Considering the number of humans and the amount of human activity on that island, that’s a lot of wastewater being discharged into the same waters where beachgoers from all over the globe frolic. I haven’t been to Boracay since the early 2000s, after I outgrew the party lifestyle that the island is known for. The only reason I want to go back these days is so my kids could experience the sensation of its powdery white sand between their toes and not be manul as far as Boracay is concerned. But if you come to think of the cesspool it has become, it’s hard to justify spending thousands of pesos on a trip to Boracay when we have Sipalay just a couple of hours drive away.

What the situation in Boracay got me thinking was while it is the most high profile cesspool in this country, almost all of the towns and cities in this country actually do the same thing when it comes to wastewater.

I did some research on the internet and found an Environment Management Bureau Region 3 report that revealed only 10 percent of wastewater in the Philippines is treated and only 5 percent of the total population is connected to a sewer network. A vast majority of Filipinos who use flush toilets are connected to septic tanks and because sludge treatment and disposal facilities are rare, domestic wastewater is typically discharged without treatment. Add to that the Filipinos who do not even use toilets (an estimated 4 percent of the population or approximately 4 million assholes) and whatever is being spewed by the traditional politicos in our 3 branches of government and we can instantly conclude with relative certainty that Boracay isn’t the only cesspool in this archipelago.

Where does our poop go when we flush? For most of us that organic matter, along with the wastewater, goes into our septic tanks. That finite space is starts filling up with sludge and water. The heavier organic matter settles in the bottom while the water eventually spills out of the tank.

In ideal or first-world societies that use septic tanks, that wastewater is supposed to go to a soakaway system or drainage field. That is essentially a network of perforated or slotted pipes which allow wastewater to percolate through and into the surrounding subsoil. When wastewater percolates through the soil, it naturally removes harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

As far as most Filipino septic tanks are concerned, that wastewater doesn’t go to a drainage field but straight into our canals and ditches where there is no natural treatment available. That is the way it is mostly done in the island of Boracay and that is the way we probably do it in Negros Island as well. From the urban jungle of Bacolod City to the virgin beaches of Sipalay, we discharge untreated wastewater into our rivers and seas because there is no wastewater treatment. It blew up in Boracay only because of the attention it gets as one of the world’s best beaches, the sheer number of people that poop in the island’s crappers, and because it is quite difficult to miss the telltale algal bloom when it is against pristine white sands and clear blue waters.

Boracay is portent of things to come if Filipinos don’t get their wastewater management priorities (aka shit) in order. The current way we handle our crap, which is via septic tank, should be adequate if our local governments makes sure that the millions of such tanks are properly designed and well maintained. But we all know that nobody cares about that crap. Are there even people in this country who are responsible for the design, installation, operation and maintenance of septic tanks or do homeowners only call that emergency name and number posted on utility posts in panic after toilets start backing up?

Even with properly designed and regularly desludged septic tanks, most of our domestic wastewater is discharged directly into canals and storm drains and that is still far from ideal. This means that even if local governments somehow build wastewater or sewage treatment plants, most of the wastewater we generate still has no way of getting to those plants. There is no need to press the panic button ala Boracay at this point but something has to be done before the shit hits the proverbial fan on a nationwide scale.

Does anybody know if we are doing anything to stop that from happening?*


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