MABALACAT, Pampanga — In the same way that Congress devotes one day during the week to local bills of hardly any national import, with the indulgence of readers, I take up today hometown issues that do not make it to the national dailies.
Our Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales, for instance, is in trouble over his dumping garbage on an open site in barangay Mangalit that has spilled into the Sapang Balen creek running through agricultural fields and carrying pollution to populated areas downstream.
An irate landowner, Manuel Feliciano, complains that he lost some five hectares after garbage overflowed to Sapang Balen. As a result, the creek swerved and scoured Feliciano’s property in adjoining barangay Atlu Bola and washed away a wide section.
The businessman said he has been complaining for the past four years to Morales, his relative, a kumpadre and a classmate, but that the mayor just gives him the run-around.
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NOXIOUS WASTES: Feliciano showed me pictures of the dump and the damage to his property, as well as affidavits of officials of three barangays echoing his complaint that Morales’ open dump has been a health hazard to the community.
He alleged that toxic medical wastes are trucked from far-away hospitals and dumped in Mangalit. Scavengers, he added, have complained of having suffered infection after stepping on syringes and other foul-smelling hospital discards.
Morales denied this, but admitted another allegation that chemical wastes from the nearby giant paper mill TIPCO are being dumped at Mangalit. (The “T” in TIPCO stands for “Trust” as in “Trust me,” a favorite buzzword of one of the mill’s major owners.)
TIPCO used to dispose of its noxious liquid wastes into the creek behind its mill along the Mabalacat-Magalang road, but stopped this when farmers and residents protested the unbearable pollution.
The newsprint mill is lucky it is identified with the owners of a major newspaper and is the biggest taxpayer of Mabalacat.
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FOUR-TERMER: Morales told me that he was closing soon the controversial dump and that he was looking at an alternative site in another province. Feliciano scoffed at this, saying that the mayor has been promising to move the dump for the past four years.
He said he knew the 55-year-old mayor inside-out. They were classmates in grade school (Holy Family Academy), high school (Don Bosco) and in college (San Beda). Besides, Feliciano had stood as sponsor in the baptism of Morales’ eldest son and was best man at the mayor’s marriage to Wilhemina Paras.
Everybody here knows his character, Feliciano said, including the millions of reasons why the Commission on Elections has allowed him to stay on as mayor for four straight terms in clear violation of the law setting a three-term limit.
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TIPCO RAPS: Feliciano, a lawyer by profession, told me he would file charges this coming week against TIPCO and some of it officials for violations of RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
Under this law that took effect in 2001, he pointed out, open dumps like the Mangalit site are illegal. Anybody throwing garbage into such dump is criminally liable. TIPCO’s use of the open site is common knowledge here.
After filing charges against TIPCO, Feliciano said he would follow up with related charges against Morales, also under RA 9003.
He added that he was compiling evidence that somebody in TIPCO had been paying Morales allegedly for its use of Mangalit and the right-of-way through another property leading to the dumpsite.
More than a dozen different trucks, some of them allegedly from TIPCO, have been documented passing the right-of-way to dump garbage in Mangalit.
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SOON A CITY?: Mabalacat is a first-class municipality, based on its population of 190,000 and annual income of P160 million. Its mayor wants it upgraded into a city, but those who have seen the town’s facilities laugh off the idea.
Morales is said to be “malakas” (influential) with President Gloria Arroyo, who garnered 91 percent of the votes in the 2004 presidential elections, with the opposition’s Fernando Poe Jr. getting only 2 percent.
The major revenue sources are its internal revenue allotments, sand (actually lahar) quarrying, and tax and fee payments from TIPCO, MAKRO, Jollibee and McDonalds. About a third of its employable residents work inside Clark.
Some 80 percent of Clark Air Base under the Americans was actually carved out of Mabalacat. The residents of the barrios taken over by the homebase of the US 13th Air Force were relocated to barangays San Joaquin and Dolores along MacArthur highway.
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DAU A RIVAL: But Dau, one of its barangays, is more popular and more progressive than the town proper itself. Dau’s economic growth was initially fueled by its being the outlet of PX (post exchange) and duty-free goods from Clark.
Business in Dau was also stimulated by it nearness to Angeles, a liberty town during the stay of American servicemen on Clark Air Base. Sleazy joints were, however, banned from the town proper as a matter of policy of past administrations.
At the rate it is growing, Dau may soon be upgraded by legislation into a separate town, especially if an idle presidential favorite turns up looking for a town to govern.
But Morales, who is naturally opposed to any barangay breaking away, said that such gerrymandering would leave Dau with not enough population and area to qualify as a new municipality.
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PROHIBITIVE TOLL: Motorists using the North Luzon Expressway expressed relief with the announcement that the toll rates would not be raised yet as earlier planned with the imposition today of a 10-percent Value Added Tax.
The Balintawak-Mabalacat (Dau) toll is set to be raised from P203 to P223, making a round-trip total of P446, which most motorists find prohibitive.
With the cost of gasoline at around P35 per liter (and rising), and with an average car logging 8-10 kilometers to the liter, paying toll and traveling the 84-kilometer stretch from Balintawak to Mabalacat becomes very expensive.
The added expense will have to be reflected in the higher cost of goods and services utilizing the expressway and the dampening of travel on tollways.
The government should have prepared alternative means of transportation that would spread the burden, such as an efficient bus service and possibly a supervised share-a-ride system.
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TOLLWAY POINTERS: As an NLEx suki, I have some pointers for new users of the North expressway.
City drivers used to the rough and tumble ways of Metro Manila traffic are advised to leave their bad driving habits at the tollgate.
If you have an easy-pass gadget mounted inside your windshield and its operation at the gate is erratic, your dark glass tinting might be interfering with the radio signals. Assuming everything else is normal, including your peso load, roll down your window and stick out your gadget like a policeman raising his badge.
The 100-kilometer-per-hour speed limit is being enforced. There are hidden cameras that snap frontal pictures of speeding vehicles. The plate number and the face of the driver (if the windshield is clear) show in the picture with the speed superimposed on it.
With that evidence, wala kang lusot. I should know. I was clocked recently at 137 kph southbound in Bocaue and, to my surprise, flagged down by an officer as I approached the tollgate.
But I was told they could let you go with 120 kph if it is shown that you were just briefly speeding on Lane 1 (leftmost lane) to pass a vehicle on Lane 2.
Use Lane 1 only for passing. Until now, many slow drivers insist on hogging Lane 1, forcing faster drivers to pass on the slowpoke’s right side This is an annoying and dangerous operation.
My remedy is to use instead the right lanes, which I have found to be less crowded and moving faster. I am reminded of the old expressway when faster frequent users resorted to using the shoulder to move faster past the slower traffic.
Every time you speed, change lane or pass, you are taking added risks. Minimize doing this.
Plan your trip and start out earlier, so there will not be any need to speed and keep changing lanes. This works wonders on your disposition and promotes safety for everybody.
If you feel drowsy, stop at any of the rest areas of service stations. These stations have practically everything you need, including space where you can park and nap if needed.