If you are foreign to the Philippines and from a Western country, one of the first big differences you may notice aside from the culture is the abundance of rubbish or basura in Filipino streets.
They’re everywhere, unfortunately. At the side of the road, against the canals, on the actual road and even as piles, especially in Metro Manila. Even more sad, the Manila bay. A once beautiful body of water sullied by garbage. Unless you go to a place that is specifically maintained or cared for privately, then most public streets would have plenty of trash like empty cans, wrappers, containers, plastic bags and the lot.
But the odd thing is, more often than not you will also see city cleaners, workers that sweep the streets and pick up trash, working for the city government. Metroaid, so they’re called. The fact that they are around often and there is plenty of trash is not their fault. I don’t think they are neglecting their duty.
Their duty is simply too big for them.
Another common thing you may see are signs or even writings on walls and other buildings’ surfaces such as ‘No Trash Here’ or in Filipino ‘Bawal Magtapon Dito’. This is a sign that many people know that trash is thrown around too often and want it to stop. But does it deter casual rubbish-throwing?
So are we to say that Filipinos simply don’t care about the environment or don’t care about rules? That sounds almost too easy of an answer and too much of a generalisation. We even have a specific word for it. Makalat, which means messy, and specifically describes somebody who leaves around too much rubbish. The more important question is, why do Filipinos litter so much?
Trust me, Philippines, especially Metro Manila, was not always this dirty. Far from it, actually. If you ask your lola (grandmother) or lolo (grandfather), they will actually tell you of a time when the streets were thriving but clear.
So what brought about this behaviour?
My theory is mainly based on a couple of points. Mind you, these are theories only. The first point is that Filipinos seem to be quite undisciplined when it comes to minor laws and rules regarding rubbish. With the economic struggles and the rising rates of crime, it seems to Filipinos there are more important things to worry about than looking for a trash can for their empty Coke bottle. The second point is the fact that the rules regarding rubbish are simply not being enforced. Private property owners are not really encouraged to pursue civil matters in terms of littering, while the police and other local authorities do not fine on the spot for it. It is rare to see.
In Australia, there is a stark difference, I can tell you. It can take a few minutes of searching the streets of Melbourne to find a proper piece of rubbish on the ground. Though most of the time its actually just trash that was blown away by the wind from an overflowing trash can. There are city cleaners, but few and far in between. You will rarely see them through the day. That is because….they are barely needed. In homes, we even have two different, large council-appointed bins, one for general garbage and another for recycling. Australians really care a lot about recycling.
That leads me to another point, actually. Filipino cities and local governments do not invest enough in having trash cans and large rubbish bins in the streets. Seeing more trash cans often reinforce the idea of throwing litter away properly in people’s minds.
The cities of the Philippines are filled with great, positive people who strive. Let’s show that amazing spirit and let it reflect through our land- our streets, homes and cities. Of course, with the support of local councils and municipalities. It sounds cliche, but…alone we can do little; together we can do so much (thank you, Hellen Keller).
Okay, I’ll stop being corny now.
Why do you think Filipinos litter?