On April 14, 2021, 26-year-old Ana Patricia Non set up a small bamboo cart along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City. She filled it up with vegetables, rice, canned goods, and noodles and put up a sign that said: Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan; kumuha batay sa pangangailangan. (Give what you can and take what you need.)

Since then, this small gesture of generosity has sparked a movement. The community pantry has been replicated in various parts of the country, in even as far as Mindanao, feeding the poor and hungry, whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.

Even the government took notice and followed Non’s lead. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in particular thought that the community pantry concept would complement their tree planting and food security advocacies. “DENR-NCR (National Capital Region) has been providing free seedlings upon request,” recalled DENR-NCR Executive Director Jacqueline Caancan. “We saw how the community pantry can help us reach out to more people. So, we coined the project title, “Community PanTREE”.

Also based on Non’s original tagline is the DENR’s Magtanim ayon sa kakayahan; umani ayon sa pangangailangan (Plant what you can; harvest what you need). The project, launched on Earth Day in April, also espouses the bayanihan spirit. While encouraging community members to take free seeds and seedlings, they can also donate their own spare seeds and planting materials. Like its inspiration, the Community PanTREE reaped its own success, and was replicated by other local governments and organizations.



Community PanTREE on a Roll

On its first day, the Community PanTree at the DENR office in North Avenue, Quezon City was already well-attended. “When we started, we organized the lines to follow health protocols. We were able to distribute around 5,000 seedlings on our first two days. The assorted seedlings were indigenous species of fruit-bearing trees like calamansi, avocado and sampaloc. We also included vegetables,” said Caancan. The vegetables were a product of DENR’s partnership with the Bureau of Plant Industry, which provided the seeds. The DENR propagated the seeds and distributed the produce to communities.

Because the Community PanTREE’s schedule changes weekly, Caancan recommends that people follow their FB page for more details. To accommodate more beneficiaries, DENR also provides schools and local government units with seedlings for their own panTREEs. Even tree-planting groups can request for seedlings from the DENR.


Making it Mobile

Last June 25, Arbor Day was celebrated in the country. According to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) website, Arbor Day calls for the “active participation of all government agencies, including government-owned and controlled corporations, private sector, schools, civil society groups and the citizenry in tree planting activity.”

Coinciding with this observance is DENR’s launch of its “Rolling Community PanTREE”, which made its initiative mobile. “The theme last Arbor Day was Sama-samang pagkilosIkaw, ako, tayo ang kalikasan (Collective action—you, I, we are nature). This means we are interconnected,” explained Caancan. “If we care for nature, we care for our health. We must be the one to save nature. With our collective effort, we could save our environment and protect it for future generations.”

The Rolling Community PanTree was first launched in Barangay 163 in Caloocan City. Its community is active in the rehabilitation of the Tullahan-Tinaheros River system, which spans La Mesa Water Reservoir to Manila Bay.

To date, the Rolling Community Pan-Tree have been launched in these areas:


Benefits of Tree Planting

The main goal of DENR’s initiative is to equip people with food sources amidst quarantine measures in NCR Plus. But as Caancan stressed, urban gardening has other benefits. “It’s a stress reliever. When we’re confined to our homes, we tend to look for something worthwhile to do. Gardening already has value, but it also gives us joy.” 

In the bigger picture of climate change mitigation, Caancan believes that urban gardening plays an important role. “Trees have the capacity to absorb heat, so we need to preserve them in our surroundings. In fact, here’s a good example: what’s the first thing you look for when you’re parking your car in an open space? A tree, right? So, we want people to realize that for every tree that they plant, they invest in the future. It is a nature-based solution that will help restore our environment. Trees and plants are essential to life, and we are interconnected.”

Still, planting needs preparation. Caancan reminded plantito and plantita wannabes that specific plants need certain soil types. Planting involves not only burying the seeds; a huge part of it requires maintenance. “To ensure that our planted trees will survive and thrive, their species should be appropriate to the planting site. There are trees that will not thrive in Metro Manila. You need information.”



The Challenge of Urban Greening

Part of DENR’s urban greening initiatives is planting brightly colored flowers along the road, providing commuters and motorists a visual respite. Before this is done, DENR makes sure that the flower species can thrive in the city. Some of these include:



“Before every planting activity, our technical staff studies the site. They make a proposal on tree planting activities and materials, which we provide,” Caancan said.

But is rapid development balanced with environmental care? Caancan said that for every tree cut down, developers are required to plant fifty indigenous trees in its place. “Big developers need to secure an Environment Compliance Certificate, which identifies their projects’ environmental impacts. As much as possible, we encourage them to incorporate existing trees into the development. If not, they are required to have greening components. But it’s good that there’s awareness now among the public. If a company cuts down too many trees, it will be bashed in social media. Developers are aware of the public’s environmental consciousness, so they adhere to regulations.”

Still, city-dwellers are encouraged to do their own urban greening in their homes. “Space is a challenge, but we have rock beds which we can put in pots. We can place these in the corners of our homes. You can use your small spaces in your bakuran. Our own small way of greening our spaces can go long way. We all need nature because we, ourselves, are nature,” ended Caancan. 

Watch the full interview here.


The scene looks straight out of a disaster movie. A 500-kilo false killer whale almost four meters long is washed up on the shore, its sleek and dark gray body mapped with scratches and wounds. It is still alive, but looks weak and disoriented. It seems even less capable to heave itself back into the deep.

The sight of a usually strong and lithe creature suddenly rendered helpless and pulled out from its environment seems like a portent of the world’s end. But the reality is that more and more incidents of marine mammal stranding are reported across the country. In fact, the false killer whale story is true, which took place in a barangay in Dansol, Pangasinan just last May. A month before, a melon-headed whale was discovered stranded along Agoo, La Union shoreline.


The false killer whale rescued in Pangasinan last May was named “Hope”. (photo courtesy of PMMSN)


Marine Mammal Stranding

“Stranding” or getting stuck on the beach usually happens to marine mammals, which include whales, dolphins, seals, walruses, dugongs, and polar bears among others. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine mammals have these distinct characteristics:

Dr. Lemnuel V. Aragones, head of the Marine Mammal Research and Stranding Laboratory (MMRSL) stated that the conventional hypothesis on why marine mammals get stranded is because they want to breathe easier. “When the marine mammal is weak, it’s hard for them to come up for air after being submerged in the sea for a while,” he explained in Filipino during a Panahon TV interview. “When  on the shore, they get to breath air but often times also a challenge if there are strong waves; thus, most stranders only have a slim chance of survival.”

MMRSL is involved in “the data collection, archiving and sometimes detailed examination of stranded marine mammals along the Philippine coast.” By studying the stranding phenomenon, it ultimately seeks to successfully conserve and manage our country’s marine mammals. According to Aragones, the awareness on stranding is relatively new among Filipinos. “The Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network Inc. (PMMSN) was established in 2005. Back then, Filipinos still didn’t know what stranded animals meant, so we only received a few stranding reports. But since 2009, when we have already trained quite a few representatives from various coastal regions nationwide, the reports climbed up. From 2014 until now, we record an average of more than 100 stranding reports a year.” 


Stranded animals on Philippine shores (photos courtesy of PMMSN)


Causes of Stranding

Based on PMMSN’s Stranding Manual, stranding is a complex phenomenon and has many possible causes. These include the following:


“The intermonsoon from March to April, when the amihan is transitioning into habagat, is when most strandings happen,” said Aragones. During this time, fishermen most likely flock to the sea because of the warm weather and calm waters. Unfortunately, they fish in areas also frequented by marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. “Some marine mammals may get entangled in fishing nets. Others find it hard to compete with the fishers for food, so probably they swim nearer and nearer to the shore, where there are unfortunately more threats, which may be attributed to  their stranding.”

For instance, a sudden low-pressure area that brings about localized thunderstorms may also cause marine mammals to be stranded. Aside from net entanglement, injuries from fishing interactions may come from dynamite fishing and illegal fishing gear. 

Sometimes, mass stranding— the simultaneous stranding of more than two similar-size marine mammals—may have natural reasons. “Marine mammals have often tight social bond, which, in technical terms is called ‘altruism’. They have selfless concern for each other, so even if only one member is sick, the rest of the group will stay with the ailing mammal. Sometimes, this causes a group to be stranded on the shore,” Aragones explained. 


But what should you do if you witness a marine mammal stranding? Aragones gives these tips:

1. Observe. Before doing anything, observe first if the stranded marine mammal is still alive. See if it is weak or injured, or if it has simply lost its way while chasing food. If the animal appears uninjured, leave it be. Often the animal can swim back to the sea once the water level rises. But if the animal looks weak, don’t push it back to the water. That’s because it’s in danger of drowning if it’s too weak to swim. Remember that mammals need to breathe air like us.

2. If the marine mammal is weak, assist and stabilize it. Do this by making sure that the top of its head where its blowhole is located is always above water. This prevents it from aspirating sand or breathing in water, which can enter its lungs and may cause damage and eventual death.

3. Report it to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network. According to the PMMSN website, you may report a stranding that needs immediate response by calling (47)252-9000 or 0928-5018226. Aragones stated that the PMMSN has trained almost 5,000 respondents across the country. All of them are linked to the LGUs, BFAR regional offices (and other NGAs) so if you witnessed a stranding event, you can also call the mayor’s office, the agricultural office, or the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) regional office. These agencies can contact the trained responder in their respective areas.


For more information on marine mammal strandings, visit PMMSN’s resource center.


Respondents assisting a stranded dolphin (photo courtesy of PMMSN)


Holistic Approach to Saving Marine Mammals

To better understand stranding, Aragones said it’s important to study it in the context of both the physical environment and the animals’ biology. “We are trying to corollate and associate all parameters that we could think of in relation to what is happening to these animals and their environment. We adopted a One Health approach, so I have former students working with me who looked for pathogens, others look for pollutants. There is a veterinarian MS student who looked at the medical aspect of the stranding, and a physics major who studied the physical environment.” Aragones and his team had a study whose publication will come out soon on the characterization of the sounds of dynamite blasting and its potential impacts on whales and dolphins who navigate, and find their prey and partner in the waters using their sense of hearing (biosonar).

The health of our marine animals also reflect the health of our seas, which are hubs for human activity. Many Filipinos live near the water, and depend on it for food. But the seas’ problems are part of a much bigger picture. “Our ecosystems are ailing. Our tropical rain forests are decreasing, our wetlands are totally ignored. The pollution in our rivers end up in the sea, and this affects our coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves. We assume that areas far from the sea are safe from disturbance. Unfortunately, that is not true. What we are seeing right now, based on our data, is that there are so many pathogens, parasites and bacteria that can cause diseases. Just imagine—the toxoplasmosis disease that causes meningitis in the brain is supposedly land-based as the reproduction of this parasite is completed through cats or feline. But we can now see this type of disease in cetacean species found in the deepest parts of our seas and oceans. It’s mind-blowing how widespread water pollution now is,” said Aragones. 

Other human-induced pollutants found in our seas also come from our power sources and pharmaceutical products. Aragones stressed that wherever we are, we play a part in either damaging or saving our seas. “Whatever damage the mountains experience goes straight into the oceans. If we want to have a positive impact, we must have the initiative to change our habits. Be responsible. Don’t throw your garbage anywhere. Plastic is not the one at fault, it’s us, humans. I hope we realize that we are a mere part of this huge world of biodiversity, which is our planet’s most unique component.”

Everything we—or don’t do—impacts the oceans, which make up 96.5% of the Earth’s waters. Marine mammal stranding is now part of our impact, and is something we can address if we take better care of our planet.


Dr. Lem Aragones is Professor at and former Director of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology of the College of Science at UP Diliman. He received a PhD in tropical environmental science from James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.

Watch Panahon TV reporter Trisha Garin’s interview with Dr. Aragones here. 


Despite it being the planet’s third deepest trench, not much is written about the Philippine Trench. What we do know is that it includes the Emden Deep, first discovered by a German ship called Emden in 1927. More than two decades later in 1951, a Danish ship named Galathea explored the spot, discovering a type of crustaceans called amphipods, bacteria and other organisms thriving in deep waters.

These bits of information were also what all Dr. Deo Onda knew about the Emden Deep. An Associate Professor and Deputy Director for Research of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) in the University of the Philippines Diliman, Dr. Ona is microbial oceanographer. He studies the ocean’s functions and movement, as well as the marine building blocks—the microorganisms. “My field is a very young field. It just started taking off in the past two decades,” he explained in an interview with Panahon TV. “The study recognizes that the foundation of the aquatic ecosystem are actually microorganisms—planktons, bacteria, and viruses. I’m trying to understand how these very small organisms affect large-scale processes and vice versa.”

The opportunity to further study the ocean, particularly the Emden Deep, came when Caladan Oceanic invited Dr. Onda to an undersea expedition last March. The American company is owned by explorer Victor Vescovo, who sets world records on exploration. In 2019, Vescovo explored the Mariana Trench, the ocean’s deepest spot.


Vescovo marveling at a miniature jeepney from Dr. Onda.


Preparing for the trip

Though Dr. Onda was excited about the expedition, he didn’t think his fellow Filipinos would be interested in it. “Nobody knew I was going to dive into the Emden Deep. I didn’t even tell my mom,” he shared in Filipino. To start the journey, Dr. Onda first flew to Guam in preparation for the dive. “The news about my trip only came out when we left Guam. MSI thought it was newsworthy, so they did a press release. I suppose it was a bit of good news in the midst of the pandemic.”

Before Dr. Onda took on the journey, he spent a year doing paperwork, and preparing himself physically and mentally. “I needed to dehydrate myself a night before. I needed to do fasting because there’s no toilet in the submersible.” But the fact that he was going to see a place where no Filipino has gone before kept him excited. “Most of the things I teach in the university is based on books written by Western scholars. I was very excited because I will be able to share something that I’ve experienced myself—something I’ve seen myself and it’s just in our backyard.”

Dr. Onda and Vescovo waving Philippine flags at the bottom of Emden Deep.


Diving Deep

The submersible bound for the Emden Deep was only big enough for Vescovo and Dr. Onda. The descent alone took four hours, accompanied by a gradual drop in temperature inside the craft. “It began getting cold at around 5,000 to 6,000 meters. Victor wore a winter jacket and boots. But I was used to the cold because I lived in Canada for a while. It was like being inside a refrigerator.”

Fifty meters before touchdown, Dr. Onda took out the Philippine flag from his pocket. “I was trying to represent 106 million Filipinos down there. I felt the pressure, but it was also a great privilege. As the first Filipino to go there, I knew that it was my responsibility to share what I’ve experienced.”

When the craft finally hit the bottom, Dr. Onda was in awe of being in one of the world’s deepest trenches. “It was a surreal feeling,” he shared.  “It was like watching a Martian movie. Then from afar, I saw something white and floating. I thought it was a jellyfish, but when we got closer, we discovered it was plastic.” This surprise discovery came like a punch to Dr. Onda’s gut. “I was pulled back to reality—seeing that plastic was a reminder that I was still on Earth. I study plastics as a scientist, but I was still hoping not to see it. It was painful seeing that human imprint at the bottom of the Philippine Trench. Human activities are affecting environments, even those in the deepest parts of the ocean.”

The Emden Deep was also quieter than he expected. To see if other creatures would appear, the explorers released a fish near the submersible. What they saw was a deluge of amphipods. “At 10,000 feet, you won’t really see fish. But we did capture a jellyfish on video.”

The craft stayed at the bottom for four hours. Within this time, Dr. Onda and Vescovo confirmed that the Emden Deep is around 10,088 feet—shallower than the previous Dutch expedition in the 1970s whose reported measurement was around 10,500 feet.


Message to Filipinos

With his record-breaking journey, Dr. Onda hoped to remind fellow-Filipinos that they are people of the sea. “More than half of our population live on the coast. We depend on the sea’s bounty. If we want to ensure our survival, we need to take care of the ocean.” 

He also stressed the interconnection between humans and the environment. “Our deeds affect even the deepest parts of the ocean. It’s sad to know that there are no longer pristine places on the planet. Plastic has reached even the world’s farthest corners.” Because of this, Dr. Onda urged the big players to address plastic pollution. “It’s not an issue of who uses plastic. It’s not about plastic straws or plastic bags. We need to call the attention of manufacturers. They have a big responsibility in shifting the demand for plastic. The government also has to create policies. To know more about our oceans, we need to value our scientists.”

When Dr. Onda held the Philippine flag at the bottom of Emden Deep, he wanted to raise awareness among Filipinos on their rich marine heritage. “I wanted to tell them that as Filipinos, we don’t need to look up or far. We need to only look down because we own the Emden Deep. I wanted to assert our country’s sovereign rights by waving our flag.”

Dr. Onda is also a big believer of dreams. “Carina Dayondon, the first Filipina to reach the summit of all the 7 highest peaks of the world once said, Ang bansang hindi marunong mangarap, walang nararating. (A country that doesn’t know how to dream won’t get anywhere.) I think expeditions like this are a manifestation of what humans can do if they dream.” He ended, “Sa mga kabataang Pilipino, sana ang kuwentong ito ay maging inspirasyon sa inyo. Kung gusto mo maging doktor, hindi lang doktor ng hospital, mayroon din doktor ng dagat, doctor ng isda, doktor ng lupa, doctor ng gubat. Sana managinip ka rin. Maraming oportunidad para sa kabataang Pilipino.” (To the Filipino youth, I hope this story inspires you. You can be a doctor—not only in a hospital. You can be a doctor of seas. A doctor of fish. A doctor of earth. A doctor of forests. I hope you will dream. There are a lot of opportunities for the Filipino youth.)


Watch the full interview with Dr. Onda here.


*Interview by Blueberrie Recto



Earth Day is less than a week away with this year’s theme of “Restore the Earth.” Earthday.org expounds on it by saying, “Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction. Together, we can Restore Our Earth.”

It is a fitting theme after the World Meteorological Society (WMO) declared 2011-2020 as the hottest year on record. Ocean heat is also hitting record levels due to greenhouse gas emissions. WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas explained, “In 2020, the annual Arctic sea ice minimum was among the lowest on record, exposing Polar communities to abnormal coastal flooding, and stakeholders such as shipping and fisheries, to sea ice hazards.” In a Panahon TV feature, PAGASA Hydrologist Rosalie Pagulayan warned that excess ocean heat may also fuel stronger tropical cyclones (bagyo).  “Warmer oceans result in more evaporation. When there’s more moisture in the atmosphere, this could lead to intensified tropical cyclones. This means stronger rains, storm surges, and the possibility of tornadoes. Coastal communities will be inundated even those that do not usually experience floods.”


Warmer oceans lead to intensified tropical cyclones. (Photo by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels)


As the planet heats up, more climate-related disasters occur. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) reported that in the last 20 years, floods have doubled while storms increased by almost 40 percent. Major increases were also observed in droughts, wildfires and extreme temperature events.


Volcanic Eruptions and Earthquakes

The Philippines sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area that experiences the most number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But according to this article, climate change might also have an effect on such disasters. It mentions a study that links small earthquakes to typhoons in eastern Taiwan, suggesting that decreased atmospheric pressure, which comes with typhoons, may cause earthquake faults to loosen and create tremors.

Meanwhile, a study from the University of Miami proposes that tropical cyclones and earthquakes are connected. It suggests that excess rainfall leads to landslides, which in turn reduces the weight on the fault below the earth’s crust, causing it to be more volatile. 


Taal Volcano is currently at Alert Level 2 according to PHIVOLCS.


But how about volcanic eruptions? With Taal Volcano in Batangas currently at Alert Level 2, and its January 2020 eruption still fresh in our minds, should we be worried about climate change stimulating volcanic activity? The same article mentions the possibility of heavy rains triggering eruptions of the Soufrière Hills in Montserrat, and seasonal changes affecting Pavlof Volcano in Alaska.

However, in a Panahon TV interview, Dr. Renato Solidum Jr, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate, stated that global warming has no effect on earthquakes and current volcanic activities in the country. “Volcanic eruptions are caused by magma beneath the earth, and not by the Sun,” he explained in Filipino. “The same goes for earthquakes, which are caused by fault movement. This energy pushes the plates around the fault.”

But Solidum was quick to stress the fatal combined effects of volcanic eruption and extreme rainfall. “Because of global warming, evaporation is sped up, causing more rainfall. When a volcano has just erupted and is followed by rain, the water combines with the spewed-out ash and becomes lahar.” This was exactly what happened when Typhoon Diding followed the Pinatubo eruption in 1991, causing lahar attacks in Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, and burying entire towns. 

Heavy rains can also exacerbate earthquake impacts. “Heavy rains can already cause landslides,” said Solidum. “But if an earthquake occurs while it’s raining, there might be stronger and more frequent landslides. Many more people will be affected.”


Residents in Rizal wade through flood caused by Typhoon Ulysses in November 2019


Environmental Care is Disaster Preparedness

Though geologic events such as earthquakes and eruptions happen naturally with or without climate change, Solidum explained how manmade activities can worsen their impacts. “Landslides occur in steep places or those with soft ground. Destroying our mountains through deforestation or housing developments leads to faster erosion and lowland flooding. The eroded soil along with improper waste disposal fill up our rivers and drainages, also causing floods.” 

Solidum recalled the landslide that occurred in a subdivision in Antipolo, Rizal in 1996, which caused over 300 buried houses and 60 deaths. “The landslide was traced to the ground being disturbed during development. When heavy rains fell, the already loosened ground eroded. The disaster was human-influenced. That’s why houses shouldn’t be built on stiff slopes. The improper placement of septic tanks and drainages can also cause soil erosion.”

More recently, Cagayan province experienced massive floods after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses in November 2020. Though fingers were pointed at Magat Dam’s release, environmental groups also cited quarrying and illegal logging in the Sierra Madre mountain range as a major cause of the disaster. Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba also faulted the heavy silt in Cagayan River for causing floods that resulted in 29 deaths.

Though it is vital to prepare for disasters with go bags and other preventive measures, Solidum stated that environmental care is just as important. “Protecting our environment is equivalent to caring for our communities and ourselves, so we can better prepare for natural hazards. These hazards become more fatal if we don’t care for our environment. Environmental care should be part of our disaster preparedness.”


Read up on how plastic pollution harms our health and environment, and take our quiz to find out how much of a zero-waste advocate you are.




Plastic-wrapped nation. Illustrated by sticker artist Zahnina Jayne Rosal ©2020

Nearly everything we use in our daily lives is made of plastic. We start the day by using a plastic toothbrush. To save money, we pack meals in a plastic container. On the way to the office, we pick up coffee in a disposable cup, which sometimes comes with disposable plastic straw. At the office, we attend a meeting that serves water, juice, or soda in PET bottles.

These modern conveniences seem harmless but in abundance, compounded by habitual improper waste disposal, is how the world has found itself nearly suffocated in plastic


Single-use plastic is everywhere


According to a United Nations environmental report, “Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.” Half of these plastics are manufactured as single-use products, eventually discarded to contribute to the 300 million tonnes of plastic waste and debris the world produces annually. 


Different types of plastics (grabbed from UN Environment Report)


These plastic pollutants degrade into smaller fragments—from undetectable microplastic (>5mm) about the size of sesame seeds, to macroplastic (<5mm) large enough to be easily recognized in its original form. These find their way into catchments before being discharged to rivers, seas, beaches, and recently, even in remote, pristine locations like Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Lake Guarda in Italy

The world is so littered with plastic that a recent study has indicated the presence of small pieces of plastic waste even in the remote mountain ranges of the French Pyrenees. Samples found from the mountains include microplastics likely from single-use plastic packaging from take-out food and PET bottles transported through the air. 


The throw-away culture and soft plastics

In the Philippines, soft plastics are the most prevalent plastic litter found in our waters, according to Amy Slack, an environmental consultant who regularly volunteers for Marine Conservation Philippines to work with international movement Break Free From Plastic  in Negros Oriental initiative. In her analysis of plastic waste collected during their group’s beach cleans in December 2019, she blogged:  “Consistently, the vast majority of the debris we found strewn across the beaches across the Philippines was plastic; a significant amount of that was soft plastics which can’t be recycled – plastic bags, sweet and crisp packets, and single-use soap and detergent sachets. There were some variations though: at one beach, we kept picking up a staggering amount of styrofoam.” 



Sachets are non-recyclable multilayered, single-used plastic.  © Amy Slack

 Recycling facility in Quezon City, taken during a field visit last February 2020. © Czarina Constantino / WWF-Philippines


Though their organization was able to fish out trash and segregate, another road block cropped up. According to Slack, “It became increasingly apparent that part of the problem was the variability of waste management across the municipality of Zamboanguita, in the Negros Oriental province.”  Aside from the lack of resources or end-points, many locals have no recycling knowledge at all. This seems to be the case not only in the municipality of Zamboangita, Negros Oriental, but also around the country. 

Meanwhile, Czarina Constantino of World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF), also the national lead for “No Plastics in Nature” Initiative acknowledges this. Meron ‘pag Luzon, pero ‘pag mga Visayas or Mindanao, Hirap sila.  Kasi archipelagic pa rin tayo. Sobrang hirap rin para kulektahin ang mga basura. Sobrang gastos. (There are in Luzon, but they’re scarce in Visayas and Mindanao because our country is archipelagic. It is very challenging to collect garbage. It’s very expensive.)

The number of recycling facilities in the country is too limited to accommodate all the plastic waste the country generates, which is about 20 kilograms per person annually, or 2,150,000 tons of plastic waste in 2019, according to the 2020 WWF findings from its recently conducted material flow analysis of plastic packaging waste.


Flow of Plastic Materials in the Philippines in 2019 © WWF Philippines


Sachets, Extended Producers Responsibility and eco-design 

Sachets are made of several layers of different types of plastic, which require separation prior to recycling. Some of these layers have very poor recyclability, and with all the mechanical steps required to separate them, it is neither economical nor profitable to recycle sachets. It is decidedly a single-use product, and a good number of case studies suggests it to be the likely culprit to our environment’s plastic woes.

According to the United Nations, the Philippines is one of five countries from which plastic pollution originates before flowing to the rest of the world. To help address this, WWF along with Congress, are working on a legislation that shall compel producers, manufacturers and businesses to be accountable for the waste they put into the market. A scheme, here and abroad, called Extended Producers Responsibilty (EPR), shall bill them ahead for their plastic waste contribution to society. This is expected to encourage stakeholders to redesign their products with recyclability or reusability in mind to avoid exorbitant EPR fees. One of the first effects expected out of EPR is the innovation of eco-friendly plastic products. Other than RA 9003, otherwise known as the Philippine Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, this is by far one of the most aggressive steps taken towards arresting the catastrophic effects of non-recyclable plastics in our environment. 


The plastic crisis and the Expanded Producer Responsibility  promotes accountability and collaborative efforts solution. © WWF Philippines


Paper or plastic?

It is not enough to opt for paper bags while shopping.  This practice potentially harms virgin forests, while reusable bags require 131 uses to qualify them as sustainable. Waste management remains an ideal option—which, unfortunately, local governments find difficult to finance. Constantino relates, “Most recycling facilities WWF has worked with are privately owned. It is also a fact that most machines that local governments own are for composting, and not recycling.” 


Though the lack of recycling facilities and accessible recycling programs add to the ongoing plastic crisis, there is simply an overwhelming amount of plastic wastes, which spill out to nature and contribute to flooding issues. In this light, Constantino stresses the importance of household waste management system. “Start with ourselves. Apart from changing yourself, you also have to change the system. Practice segregation. Apart from changing your lifestyle, you have to change the system so you can influence. People can influence systemic changes in their areas.”


Plastic use in the time of pandemic

A recent study conducted in July 2020 by Pew Trusts indicates that at present, 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the oceans annually, which can possibly triple by 2040. Still, Constantino acknowledges there are necessary plastics. “We do not say that let us eliminate all plastics. For WWF, there are necessary plastics. We usually relate them to food safety and health security. If it’s something that would help decrease the food wastes, we’re okay with that.”

However, this projection has not taken into account the pandemic effect on the usage of plastics brought about by food consumption and health security. In the Philippines, our waste management solution is mostly through landfills shared by cities. Presently, the WWF has not received confirmation on whether the lifespan of these landfills will be greatly affected by the increase in plastic consumption these last few months.

Microwavable plastic containers collected in one month by a household of 4 in May 2020. © River Rosal


WWF expects the numbers to rise as a consequence. “While we were conversing with Manila City, ang next nilang problem, mapupuno na raw yung landfill by 2026,” Constantino shares. “That’s pre-COVID, pero ngayon hindi ko alam kung that is still the projection. Recently, there’s really a significant increase of plastic use—lalo na yung mga tao, stay at home, padeliver lahat. Some businesses, dati pwede ka magdala ng resuables, pero ngayon, kinansel muna nila due to health reason daw. Kasi parang nag-shift din yung mga businesses, na dating nag-re-reusables, or dating nag-e-entertain ng reusability, ngayon, parang stop muna natin.’” (While we were conversing with the Manila City government, they shared that their next problem is that the landfill could be filled to capacity by 2026. That’s pre-COVID, but now, I don’t know if that is still the projection. Recently, there has been a significant increase of plastic use. Because people are at home, everything gets delivered. Some businesses used to allow reusables, but these days, that option is cancelled, supposedly due to health reasons. There appears to be a shift among businesses who used to accommodate reusables, or those who used to entertain reusability. But now they’re saying, “Let’s stop for a while.”)


High-value plastic such as PET and HDPE are not prioritized by waste pickers in the Philippines. © McKinsey Center for Business and Environment


Reduce, reuse and recycle 

There is only good in knowing these numbers however alarming they may be, because what cannot be measured, cannot be managed. With data, plastic reduction plans can be mapped out— refusing plastic, reusing what we acquire, and adapting recycling plans at home and in the community. The system has to go beyond the home. If we can only manage to retrieve those and recycle them, we can help manage the plastic crisis. 

In the Philippines, studies show that while 62.6% account for the non-recyclable plastics including the single-use plastic packaging and sachets, the remaining percentage (37.4%) of plastic wastes consist of high value plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and HDPE (high density polyethylene) containers like shampoo and other toiletries containers, plastic jugs for juices and sauces to name a few. These are all highly recyclable and yet end up in landfills because of two possible reasons: lack of recycling capability, and the lack of awareness among communities and households on waste segregation.

In order for Filipinos to successfully reduce, reuse, and recycle, the end points of plastic waste disposal must be always secured. There are various organizations that can help. For example, Green Antz Builders has drop-off hubs for discarded sachets and other clean and dry plastic wastes. They incorporate about 100 sachets in cement mix to make eco-bricks. Papelmeroti accepts discarded bubble wrap and other plastic wastes. The Plastic Solution collects and repurposes PET bottles to create wall fillers.


Fully packed PET bottles turned into bricks for wall partitions ( The Plastic Solution ©2020.)

Communities can also initiate recovery projects with local government units for the segregated collection of plastic wastes to turn them into cash, or to mobilize junk shop projects. Constantino shares that as of last inquiry, the PET bottles are worth P5.00 per kilo, while P17.00 per kilo is the going rate for plastic bottle caps.  The Department of Trade and Industry has also created an income forecast for communities, such as condo complexes, to start their own plastic collection and junk shops. 

If the nation can recover the 37.4% of high-value plastics and recycle them, the plastic crisis in the Philippines can slowly be mitigated. If single-use plastics are refused, while others are reused and recycled, manufacturers will eventually redesign their products to adapt to the discerning, environmentally-aware public. 


For the past weeks, the water level in Angat Dam, which supplies 97% of Metro Manila’s water needs, has been slowly but continuously decreasing. According to the Climate Outlook Forum of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) last September 23, the dam’s level was at 177.3 meters, 32.67 meters less than its normal water level of 210 meters.

But according to Rosalie Pagulayan of the Hydro-Meteorological Division of PAGASA, historical data in the past 14 years shows that Angat Dam’s water level typically dips during this time.

Angat Dam’s current downward trend in light blue (graph from PAGASA)

“Its level continues to decrease, but we expect it to increase during the Northeast Monsoon. Even with no typhoons, we can expect Angat Dam to recover in the last quarter of the year,” says Pagulayan. This is based on the forecast rainfall of PAGASA’s Climatology and Agrometeorology Division, which shows an expected 386 millimeters in October, 294 millimeters in November and 129.5 millimeters in December.


Forecast Rainfall for the remainder of 2020

October386 millimeters
November295 millimeters
December129.5 millimeters


Metro Manila’s Main Water Source

The Angat Reservoir and Dam is located in the Angat Watershed Forest Reserve in Norzagaray, Bulacan. According to Manila Water, the dam supplies the water requirements of Metro Manila, and irrigates about 31,000 hectares of farmlands in Pampanga and Bulacan. It also generates hydroelectric power for the Luzon Grid, and holds water to reduce flooding in downstream towns and villages.

Top photo of Angat Dam taken last April 13, 2010 when water levels hit the critical 180 meters above sea level. Photo at the bottom with the structure completely exposed, was taken last July 16, 201, when levels reached a historical low of 157.55 meters. (Top photo by Joseph Agcaoili /Greenpeace. Bottom photo by Gigie Cruz-Sy /Greenpeace)


The dam usually stores enough water for Metro Manila’s 30-day supply. But El Niño, which refers to the unusual warming the oceans giving way to higher temperatures, can affect dam levels. On July 18, 2010, Angat Dam decreased to its all-time lowest level of 157.55 meters, the difference from its normal level roughly equivalent to the height of an 18-storey building. Because of El Niño, rain was below-normal, drying up the rivers that led to Angat Dam. Irrigation in Bulacan and Pampanga was cut to give way to the water needs of Metro Manila, which still experienced service interruptions. The government distributed relief goods among farmers and their families because they were unable to harvest.

Last year’s El Niño brought the Angat Dam down to 159.43 meters, just 2 meters more than its lowest record in 2010, prompting the National Water Resources Board to further reduce the allocation for Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services. Over 6 million residents of Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite experienced daily rotational water interruptions from six hours to as much as 21 hours. Because of this, hospital operations and businesses were affected with some restaurants, carwashes and laundry shops closing temporarily.


Residents waiting by the roadside for fire engines to fill up their water containers in 2019


Why We and our Dams are in Danger

According to the World Population Review, Manila is now the most densely-populated city in the world with over 42,000 residents per square meter. Data from the Philippine Statistical Authority shows that over 21.3 million people live Metro Manila. 

Overpopulation created a spike in water demand, especially during the sweltering El Niño season of 2019, one of the reasons a Manila Water representative pointed out as the cause of reduced water levels in dams. But the water crisis is a global one, which the Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S. also attributes to climate change. Global warming alters the water cycle, affecting the “amount, distribution, timing and quality of available water.” While a warmer climate speeds up the evaporation of water on land and in oceans, it also holds more water that can be released through devastating typhoons, causing massive floods.

The Philippines’ water crisis also extends to limited access to water and sanitation outside the metropolis. The World Health Organization states that out of the 105 million living in the Philippines, around 7 million depend on water sources that are unsafe and unsustainable. In fact, one of the country’s leading causes of death in 2016 was acute diarrhea, causing over 139,000 fatalities.

An unreliable water supply severely affects public health, pushing people to look for other drinking water sources that may be unsafe. Basic hygiene—a must during this pandemic—is also compromised as one needs to thoroughly wash themselves, their clothes and their food to prevent infections from COVID-19 and other illnesses. When water pressure in pipes are low because of scarce supply, elements can contaminate the water once the pressure is restored.

Before Manila Water implemented rotational service interruptions in October last year,  Metro Manila residents went on panic mode and stored water ahead of time. The move lowered water pressure, limiting its flow and distribution toward high places. WHO also cautions against the improper storing of water as this can allow mosquitoes to breed, possibly increasing the risk of diseases such as dengue fever.


Solving the Water Crisis

While individuals are responsible for their own health and safety by making sure their drinking water is safe and free from contamination, WHO states that the government also needs to provide long-term solutions. Groundwater and surface water from rivers and lakes will not last long when exacerbated by climate change and a growing population.

“Strategies such as the application of improved rainwater collection systems and state-of the-art desalination technologies coupled with renewable energies can be used in the Philippines,” says Environmental health technical officer in WHO Philippines Engineer Bonifacio Magtibay on the WHO website. “By adopting innovative and long-term solutions, the Philippines can ensure water for all that will protect the peoples’ health and help drive sustainable development forward.”

Pagulayan also reiterates that though PAGASA expects Angat Dam to recover, residents must not be complacent. “We have always called for the responsible use of water. This is a very important commodity because we use it for almost all our activities. Even if we’re not experiencing El Niño or other weather systems, we should always be looking at how we can maximize our resources. Let’s not waste water.”

For more tips on conserving water, watch this.

For more details on the Angat Dam, watch Panahon TV’s report. 


“We are what we eat” is a popular statement that indicates how our diet affects our health. Recent studies, for instance, show that long-term consumption of red meat, particularly processed meat, increases risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. But with evidence of the food industry’s massive impact on the environment, it seems that our planet is also a reflection of what we choose to put on our plate.

According to Greenpeace, global meat and dairy production has become so intensive that it’s now a major cause of deforestation, and the degradation of oceans and freshwater sources. Since 1970, the planet’s wildlife has been cut down to half, while its livestock has tripled. If this issue is not addressed, the meat and dairy industry is projected to make up 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

Crowded pig stall in Germany (photo by Greenpeace)


In an article, Pete Smith, Former Convening Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stresses the need to reduce demand for livestock products. “Only a significant decrease in meat and milk consumption will allow us to deliver a food system fit for the future – for the benefit of humans and the planet as a whole. Producing the same mix of foods as we consume now, even if we were to do so more sustainably, cannot deliver the reduction in environmental impacts we need to protect the planet for our children and their children.”

Antibiotic resistance, which the World Health Organization declared as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”, is also linked to the livestock industry. Greenpeace reports that animals are subjected to overcrowded and unsanitary living quarters, overfeeding and over-administering of antibiotics to maximize profits. This inhumane treatment contributes, not only to antimicrobial resistance among meat consumers, but also food-borne illnesses.

To prevent environmental destruction, Greenpeace urges governments to gear toward more sustainable practices in agriculture. This includes lessening meat and dairy production, and focusing on growing cops to make plant-based foods more available.


Veganism = Environmentalism

Mabi advocates a green lifestyle in the kitchen and beyond.


Veganism is generally perceived as referring to people who don’t eat animal products. But according to Mabi David, who describes herself as a plant-based cook, veganism is a way of life. “Veganism is an ethic, and diet is just one part of it. Veganism is a justice movement, and the issue of animal rights intersects with issues of human rights. Animal cruelty intersects with other prejudices  like racism and sexism, in that they are different manifestations of an oppressive worldview where one group designates itself superior and entitled over another group that the former has defined as different, weaker.”

As a nutritionist and dietician, Gelo practices what he preaches.

Nutritionist and dietician Gelo Cruz was also inspired to turn vegan when he learned how cruel the meat and dairy industry was. “Animal cruelty extends to using animals for food, fashion and entertainment like in circuses and zoos. For me, these are all unnecessary forms of oppression to our fellow sentient beings.”

A vegan for two years, Gelo studied the negative health impacts of increasing meat consumption when he took up nutrition and dietetics in college. “But I was not aware that it was possible to live on a completely plant-based diet until I did further research as a professional,” he says. 

Health was also a powerful motivation for Mabi to embrace veganism.  “I’ve dabbled on and off in vegetarianism since I was in my early 20s, but thought I could not give up dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt which I was fond of despite my lactose intolerance,” she shares. In 2016, Mabi became vegan after reading an article that linked animal products to chronic diseases. “This was mind blowing for me. I realized I could actually live without cheese. I became vegan practically overnight.”


Health Benefits

As a nutritionist, Gelo believes in being preventive rather than curative, a mindset that prioritizes a healthy immune system over disease treatment. As to the argument that a vegan diet is nutritionally inadequate, Gelo says, “All the nutrients we need throughout human life stages can be acquired through a plant-based diet. There are a lot of plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Another great advantage of getting protein from plant-based sources is that it is packed with vitamins and minerals, which builds up the immune system, while protein sourced from animal-based food is packed with carcinogens and cholesterol.”

Mabi shows off her fresh organic veggies


For Mabi, veganism pushed her to cook her own food—a great way to manage one’s health. “I like the fact that whenever I feel like I am coming down with something, my immune system actually has a fighting chance against disease. Recovery time is quicker. In this time of global pandemic, we’re realizing how important health is.” 

To ensure that her diet has minimal environmental impact, Mabi sources her organic vegetables from small-scale farmers, who typically grow food in their backyards. “Growing food so close to their homes, food that they will feed their families, these farmers make sure that their produce is not grown with chemical fertilizers and bombarded with toxic pesticides,” she says. “These small backyard farmers also grow a diverse set of produce to be able to feed their families with some variety, and diversity supports the health of multiple ecosystems that help protect our environment, from worms to bees to wildlife. Monocropping leads to the extinction of food crops that may be less popular but are vital to a culture, a community.”


Veganism as a Way of Life

Gelo represented Vegan Strong Philippines, a support group for vegans, transitioning vegans and the vegan-curious, at the Spartan Race last October 2019. (Photo by Spartan Race Phils.)


Aside from promoting the plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle, Gelo also volunteers in an animal shelter in San Pedro, Laguna. “We rescue stray cats and dogs, and animals scheduled for slaughter. We also conduct TNRs (trap, neuter, release/return) among stray cats to manage their population, and prevent their mistreatment and abuse.”

Mabi, who’s also a pet owner, likes the fact that no animal suffers with her lifestyle. “I am horrified that cows are kept impregnated all year round just so they can keep producing milk for humans, and that their babies are taken away from them right after birth so that they milk they lactate will be given to humans instead. I cannot imagine killing an animal that does not want to suffer and die simply because I like how meat tastes.”

Mabi’s children’s book encourages children to be adventurous eaters.

Complementing Mabi’s advocacy is her children’s book on eating the rainbow, a technique parents can use to make sure their children are getting enough nutrients from fruits and vegetables by making their plates as colorful as possible. “The book came about when I reached out to Greenpeace to propose a collaboration to help mainstream plant-based eating. The children’s book was Greenpeace’s idea, and we worked with Adarna House.” 


Tips for Turning Vegan

Mabi believes that the local vegan scene is thriving, making it easier for meat eaters to make the transition. She and Gelo also offer these tips:

Spicy King Oyster Mushroom Teriyaki cooked by Misaki, Gelo’s girlfriend


Consider vegan versions of your favorite food. 

“I believe that there is an emotional attachment to food (e.g your mother cooking your favorite chicken noodle soup whenever you get sick), that’s why I recommend transition food like mock meat or veggie meat to satisfy cravings. These foods are not necessarily healthy, but they are healthier than animal meat.” At first, Gelo found it difficult to give up his favorite food—fried chicken. But he learned to trick his palate while staying vegan. “Whenever I crave fried chicken, I make it using cauliflower. It helped my palate adjust.”


Know why you want to make the change.

Are you switching to a plant-based diet because of health? is it because you refuse to be part of animal cruelty? Is it because of the environment? Gelo advises holding on to this purpose when meat cravings strike. “Whenever you feel tempted to go back to your old ways, remember why you’ve decided to go vegan.”


Do a pantry and kitchen reset. 

“Start stocking up on healthier, plant-based ingredients,” says Mabi. “Out of sight, out of mouth.”

Mabi’s probiotic-packed ensalada with lacto-fermented tomatoes and native corn


Cut out processed foods. 

Mabi believes these are designed to keep you craving for them, and desensitize your taste buds. “You’ll need to train your taste buds to detect delicate flavors and nuances,” she advises.


Make the journey enjoyable. 

“If you feel deprived, it will be difficult,” says Mabi. Because she loves Indian food, Mabi loaded up on Indian spices and purchased an Indian cookbook to jumpstart her transition. 


In the light of the pandemic, veganism, a practice on self-sufficiency, becomes even more relevant. “How do we feed everyone? How do we access healthy food to build our resistance? Whenever we eat, we are participating in the creation of a food system,” Mabi explains. “The farmer and the eater are interdependent, and we are not just consumers at the end of a long food chain. Rather, we are co-producers of the food system and we can shape it into one that is nourishing, just and sustainable.”


Know more about Gelo Cruz’s vegan advocacies on Facebook.  

For Mabi’s vegan journey and recipes, check out Me and My Veg Mouth.

As the country struggles against the pandemic, the solution to combat COVID-19 seems to be the use of plastic and other disposable materials. Jeepneys, tricycles, buses and trains use plastic dividers to promote physical distancing among passengers; and since August 15, The Department of Transportation has mandated the populace to wear—along with face masks—face shields, usually made from plastic, when taking public transportation. Adding to the plastic burden is the deluge of food take outs and merchandise deliveries, deemed the safer option than dining out or going to malls during the pandemic.


Inside a jeepney in Bulacan (photo by PM Caisip)

But the Philippines isn’t the only country boosting waste production. In Thailand, home deliveries account for the increase of plastic waste from 1,500 tons to 6,300 tons per day. Last February, China ramped up its daily face mask production to a staggering 116 million daily, resulting in hundreds of tons of used masks in public bins each day.

Hospitals are also generating more waste. According to the Asian Development Bank’s data last April, Metro Manila hospitals, which deal with more than half of the country’s COVID-19 cases, were estimated to produce 280 metric tons of medical waste each day. A similar number was reflected last March in Wuhan hospitals, which produced more than 240 tons of daily waste at the height of the outbreak, compared with 40 tons during ordinary times.


Garbage in Misamis Oriental (photo by Manman Dejeto/Greenpeace)

Plastic Pollution

The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) states that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a million plastic drinking bottles were purchased every minute across the globe. Each year, up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide, while 8 million tonnes of the world’s plastic end up in the oceans.

Plastic is widely produced and used because they are durable and don’t break down. Ironically, these traits are also the reason why they’re harmful to us and the environment. According to the UN Environment, most plastic items in the oceans are broken down into tiny particles easily swallowed by marine animals—the same animals that humans eat. Plastic has also found its way into our tap water, increasing our risk for ingesting them. By clogging drainages, plastic facilitates breeding grounds for pests, which give rise to vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria.


Plastic in the Philippines

According to a 2015 report released by the Ocean Conservancy, the Philippines ranks third among the world’s top plastic polluters of oceans. 

But efforts to address rampant plastic use has been shelved due to the pandemic. In fact, the Quezon City government is thinking of suspending its ordinance on banning single-use plastic and disposable materials. But Greenpeace Campaigner Marian Ledesma emphasizes that such move can greatly impact an already ailing environment and population. “Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables as it will cause additional public health concerns once discarded,” she says. “As the government gradually allows businesses to reopen, reusable systems and single-use plastic bans must be implemented to ensure the protection of the environment, workers, and consumers.” 

Garbage from South Korea dumped in Misamis Oriental (Photo by Manman Dejeto/Greenpeace)


Compounding the nation’s plastic crisis is the illegal waste trade. Since China stopped its waste importation, Southeast Asia has received a deluge of toxic garbage from developed countries. In the last three years, the ASEAN region, notably Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, saw an astounding 171% growth—equivalent to over 2 million tonnes—in plastic waste imports. Data from Greenpeace Southeast Asia shows that from 4,267 tons in 2017, plastic waste imports to the Philippines rose to 11,761 tons in 2018. Most of these came from Japan, the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. 

Last year, the government began shipping back the controversial Canadian garbage, which slipped into the country between 2013 and 2014. The shipments, labeled as recyclable materials, was, in fact, made up of 64% unrecyclable residuals. 

But NGO groups such Ecowaste Coalition and Greenpeace Philippines believe that the uncovered shipments show only the tip of the iceberg of waste that actually enters the country. They have been calling for the government to sanction the Basel Ban Amendment, which bans the import of all waste, including those for recycling. “The ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment (BBA) and the enactment of a total ban on waste imports is crucial, especially at a time when the nation grapples with recovery from a global pandemic that has led to the proliferation of medical and household waste,” Greenpeace Country Director Lea Guerrero said. “Lack of prohibitions on waste imports and poor enforcement of existing regulations leave the country open to future incidents of illegal waste trade, which often results in recipient countries shouldering the health and environmental costs of foreign waste.”


Enterprising Pinoys, including Eli/sew/beth, are making and selling reusable face masks


Go for Reusable, Not Disposable

A study published in Environmental Science & Technology states that an estimated 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion disposable gloves are used worldwide each month during the pandemic. 

This concern has prompted over 130 global health experts—including scientists, academics, doctors, and authorities on public health and food packaging safety— to sign a statement that assures the public that reusables, when coupled with basic hygiene, are safe during the pandemic. In an interview with Greenpeace Philippines, Dr. Geminn Louis Apostol of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health stated that the pandemic waste has led to widespread environmental contamination, as well as increased public health risk. “Inequitable access to PPE (personal protective equipment) and to information about how to stay safe has contributed to the disproportionate rates of infection in poor and minority communities. If medical masks are prioritized for healthcare workers, the general public can use cloth masks as a safe, cost-effective alternative.”

Though health and safety is a pressing issue during the pandemic, outbreaks have long been linked to environmental degradation. By lessening our waste during these challenging times, we also lessen our risk for sickness. As Dr. Renzo Guinto, a physician and public health expert on health, climate change, and the environment, stated in an interview, “Protecting the public’s health must include maintaining the cleanliness of our home, the Earth. We don’t need to choose one over the other – we can protect ourselves from COVID-19 while protecting the environment.”

Our country’s natural environment is in a dire state. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Philippines is highly vulnerable to climate change with its increased weather events, and rising sea level and temperatures. A study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 revealed that the Philippines ranks third in deaths due to air pollution. The country also ranks third as a source of plastic pollution in the oceans according to a 2015 report by Ocean Conservancy.

Pro-environment speeches always talk about how we need to save the environment for the next generation. But to solidify this advocacy, we need the next generation to fight alongside us in the name of environmental protection. And one effective way to do this is through children’s books that nourish young minds in engaging ways.

According to the 2017 Readership Survey by the National Book Development Board, picture books and storybooks for children are the second most-read book genre among respondents. Among children and even young adults, over 72% read the said genre.

Building on these statistics, Panahon TV celebrates Buwan ng Wika this August by featuring writers with a heart for Mother Nature. Their children’s books written in Filipino capture the next generation’s imagination, while instilling in them a love for the environment.


Writers slash Eco-Warriors

Liwliwa Malabed

With 16 children’s books published and 4 more waiting in the wing, Liwliwa Malabed has been writing for young readers for 18 years. Some of her books have been recognized by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People through the PBBY-Salanga Writers’ Prize. We shine the spotlight on her environmental book Luntian, Ang Bungang May Pakpak (Luntian, the Winged Seed Pod), illustrated by Aaron Asis and published by Lampara Books. The story talks about Luntian, a seed pod who dreams of becoming a sturdy forest tree like her mother. While chasing his dream, Luntian goes on an adventure, meeting a Northern Luzon giant cloud rat and a Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.


How did the concept for the book come about?

Luntian was written after a visit to the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME) in Los Baños, Laguna. There, I saw towering native trees like the Red Lauan. Our guide told us about indigenous species that depend on these trees to survive. Somehow, the idea that one tree can support all these creatures stuck and I went back to Manila with the imprint of the lauan tree in my mind.


How did you craft the story?

First, I researched on dipterocarps. I learned about how their seeds have wing-like parts so they can ride the wind and reach far. I also looked up the animals and plants that live on these trees. I personified my characters because I needed the seed pod to come alive, to have an active role its story. It is still a seed, yes— but with an impatient desire to become a giant.



What do you think are your book’s strongest points?

I made a conscious decision to write it in Filipino and I am glad I did. A story resonates more with children when told in a language they can easily understand. I am also happy with the story within the story part of the book, that Luntian wants to grow into a giant tree so she can be a home to forest creatures because of a tale told by Lolo Ninok, a Philippine scops owl. The illustrations by Aaron Asis are wonderful! The artist’s work is the puzzle piece that completes the narrative.


What do you hope children will learn after reading your book?

I am hoping that children will be more aware of how magnificent and valuable trees are, that planting native trees is beneficial to the environment because they are more resilient against strong winds and flooding brought about by typhoons. Also, endemic species prefer to live in native trees.

Jomike Tejido

Jomike Tejido is both a writer and illustrator with over 50 children’s books under his belt. In 2010, he won two National Book Awards for writing and illustrating Tagu-Taguan, and for illustrating Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub about pioneering pediatrician Fe del Mundo. Also an architect, Jomike has been writing children’s picture books since 2001. One of them is the Anvil-published endangered species series, which features lovable stories about the pawikan (marine turtle), dugong, Philippine eagle, and tamaraw (Mindoro dwarf buffalo) among others.

5 of 7 books in Jomike’s endangered species series

How did the concept for the endangered species series come about?

The series was commissioned by Anvil Books in 2007 and it was my first experience in having a commissioned set of three stories. Then the series picked up and more titles sprang. They must have commissioned me for it due to my long-running daily comic strip that dealt with the lighter side of environmental issues. Mikrokosmos in the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran from 2000 to 2007.


How did you craft the stories?

I took into consideration some pointers I learned from the writers’ workshop I attended, wherein a child psychologist talked about a child’s psychological needs. From there, I made my stories more mundane and specific. Pao Tamaraw was inconsiderate and playful, while Gilas Agila was boastful and had a superiority complex. All these traits are flaws relatable to children, and personified by animals in their habitat. As children can sometimes act like “wild animals,” I could easily relate animals to kids. I worked with Haribon Foundation, and I had a pack of endangered animal flashcards I used as my main list. Then I worked with credible websites to fill in other factual details.

What do you think are the strongest points of this series?

The strongest points are my low word count (thus short storyline), relatable characters and whimsical digital art. I made it a point that the science part wasn’t didactic or rammed into the readers’ minds.


What do you hope children will learn after reading these books?

I hope that children can learn to love animals, especially those endemic to our country, and not feel that just because they are local, they are uncool. I’d like young Filipinos to be proud that these creatures come from their land. I want them to know where these animals live and what they eat, just like how kids are familiar with foreign creatures from TV or books.


Augie Rivera

Writing for the classic Filipino children’s show Batibot propelled Augie Rivera to be a children’s book writer. His books have received recognition from award-giving bodies, including the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Recently, he was awarded with the 2020 Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas for Children’s Literature in Filipino. Last year, Augie’s 19th book, Bayan ng Basura, illustrated by Jill Arteche, was published by Adarna House and Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines. The protagonist is a pawikan who, after a storm, ends up in the deep end of the ocean littered with trash and ailing fellow sea creatures.

How did you come up with the story’s concept?

The book was commissioned by Greenpeace because they wanted to tackle the issues of single-use plastics and ocean pollution. I based the story on real-life events, such as the marine turtle that had a plastic straw shoved up its nose in Costa Rica in 2015. I also read up on the dead whale in Compostela Valley which had 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. Then I saw a footage of a British diver in Bali who showed the incredible amount of garbage floating on the sea. These bits of news fueled my imagination, which was why my story had a post-apocalyptic feel to it, wherein there was more garbage than sea creatures.


What do you think are your book’s strongest points?

I really like the book illustrations by Jill Arteche. The first time I saw them, the style reminded me of  Maurice Sendak’s work. When I met Jill, I found out that Sendak is one of her major influences. When the pawikan was surround by trash, the illustrations were dim. They brightened when the trash disappeared.

What do you hope kids will learn from story?

I want them to be aware that they can do something to solve a big problem such as ocean pollution. They can do their part in their own little ways because that’s how big problems start—from little things. I want them to be mindful of their actions because humans are not the only living things here on earth.



Practicing What They Preach

These writers don’t only write about caring for the environment; in their own homes, they also practice eco-friendliness. Liwliwa, for instance, was brought up by a grandmother who taught her how to reuse and recycle. “At home, we try to be mindful of our carbon footprint, conserving water and energy, and refusing single-use plastic.”

Jomike reuses product packaging, and passes on environmental values to his children. “I teach my kids to save water and energy by turning off faucets and appliances when not in use. I let them watch nature documentaries to expand their world view, and see animals wider than the scope of domestic pets,” he shares.

Ever since Augie moved to Marikina a few years ago, he’s been more conscious of waste segregation. “Once, I accidentally mixed vegetable peel with non-recyclable waste, and I had to go to the City Environment Management Office to either pay the fine of P2,000 or do community work. I never made the mistake again.” When he goes out, Augie brings his own eco bag, straw and utensils. “I agreed to write Bayan ng Basura because I really support environmental advocacies.”

Linaaw, Liwliwa’s daughter, reads her mother’s book


Telling Mother Nature’s Stories

All these children’s book writers agree—it’s vital to write environmental stories for children.

“It’s important to imbue the love for animals and care for the environment at a young age,” Jomike shares. “Stories like mine aim to foster the love for these creatures by letting kids feel that these characters are like their friends (or themselves), who have flaws like any normal person and can be taught to become better.”

Liwliwa thinks that these stories are more important now during the pandemic. “Nowadays, children are always indoors, and stories connect them with the outside world,” she says. “Stories about the environment make children realize how nature makes it possible for us to live our lives and how children can participate in protecting our planet.”

Augie believes that stories about the environment gives hope to the next generation. “As grownups, we didn’t do our part in saving our planet.  So we should raise our children’s awareness on the issues, and encourage them to do their part and hope for a better world to live in.”