Bantay Kalikasan

Nila’s Caring Hands

Althea Cahayag
March 26, 2019

She was there, alone, unlike all other participants who were in groups. She was wearing a cap from the organization leading the clean-up activity, in her pink long sleeves that shields her from the heat of the sun. She was wearing a pair of clog water sandals, as she stepped on an island of garbage along the Pasig River. She was picking up different trash with her hands, wearing the provided rubber gloves.

She didn’t care about the smell; she didn’t care how it felt like to touch the trash. She knew exactly what she was doing, as if she had been doing it for the longest time.

Her name was Nila, 65. Others just call her “Nel”. 

Baseco, Manila | Nanay Nila on the island of trash, picking up wastes, in the wide expanse of Pasig River

It was in 2014 when she started picking up sachets along the Pasig River in Baseco, Manila. She wakes up as early as 5:00 A.M., every day. Together with her fellow members of their organization called Kabalikat, they cut the sachets into half and wash them. These are then turned-over to another non-government organization. She doesn’t know what the NGO exactly does to the sachets but she thinks it is probably to upcycle them.

Nanay Nila is an Environment Leader of Kabalikat. “Kapag may mga clean-up, sa Kabalikat o sa iba, sumasali talaga ako,” she shared. (Whenever there are clean-up activities, whether they are organized by Kabalikat or other groups, I always join them.)

After picking up sachets and cleaning them, she goes to the mangrove area to check on the trees and the surrounding area. After, they go back to the river to pick up trash again in the afternoon.

“Kapag hapon, maraming naliligo sa dagat. Marami (silang dalang) mga plastic. Sinasabi ko sa kanila, ‘Ipunin niyo na lang, kukunin ko ‘yan!’” (During afternoons, a lot of people swim along the river. They bring lots of plastic with them. I tell them to just put them together and I’ll take them.)

Back in 2012, she started to take care of the planted mangroves at the end of the residential area in Baseco. She said she used to cry when little kids try to pluck them out.

“September 5, 2012, nag-start kaming mag tanim niyan,” she even remembers the exact date. (It was September 5, 2012 when we started planting those mangroves.)

“Doon ako sa gitna ng mangrove nakatira dati kasi ako ang nag-alaga niyan. Simula pa sa maliit ang mga ‘yan, ako ang nag-alaga. Pinapatubo ko, inaalagan ko talaga. Umiiyak gani ako kapag may mga batang binubunot sila,” she said as she recalled those moments, as if the mangroves were her own children. (I used to live at the middle of the mangrove area because I was taking care of them. I started to take care of them even before they grew. I cry whenever kids pluck them out.)

The Mangrove area which Nanay Nila monitors every day.

Nanay Nila shared that aside from plastic, they see human wastes along the river as some of the families do not have comfort rooms. “Iyong mga mangrove ko nga roon, ipa-flying saucer nila yung mga dumi nila, sumasabit doon sa mga sanga!” (Some of them just throw their human wastes wrapped in plastic like a flying saucer to the mangrove area. They end up on the branches of the mangroves!)

Every time they do clean-up activities in Kabalikat, Nanay Nila tells the residents near the river, ‘Maawa naman kayo, kayo ang dumudumi rito!” (Have pity! You are the ones making the place dirtier!) 

She said she sees families throwing their wastes by the river and she keeps on telling them to stop and just wait for the garbage truck to arrive but they turn a deaf ear and continue to do so.

There were also times when she invites her neighbors to join in clean-up activities but she just ends up dismayed as most of them ask for something in return. “Ano ‘yan, Nel? May biyaya ba, Nel?” they ask.

(What’s that, Nel? Would we be given a reward after?)

“Active lang kayo kapag may biyaya pero kapag clean-up para sa kalikasan natin, wala,” she answers.  (You are just active when you get something in return but when it’s just a clean-up for our environment, you don’t do anything to participate.)

Nanay Nila was among the residents who joined the clean-up activity in Baseco headed by 4Ocean, in partnership with ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation’s environment arm, Bantay Kalikasan. It was organized as part of the celebration of the World Water Day with more than 200 volunteers who participated.

Jackie Price, Director of International Operations of 4Ocean and Chips Guevarra, Country Manager of 4Ocean Philippines, lead the cheer with the volunteers from Baseco and different organizations as the clean-up activity ended. More than 300 sacks of single use plastic wastes were collected, almost 4,000 kilos.

The clean-up collected almost 4,000 kilos of single-use plastic. Over 90% of these are residual wastes that can no longer be recycled.

Not even half. A drum of plastic wastes that can be recycled. It’s not even half of the drum.

Coral Reef Bracelet. 4Ocean is known for its iconic bracelets that they sell to promote awareness of the ocean pollution advocacy. In addition to removing one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines, this bracelet supports the Coral Restoration Foundation and their efforts to grow and replant endangered coral species around the world. (4ocean.com)

Jen Deomano Santos, Bantay Kalikasan’s Program Director, noted that the waterways become shallow because of the wastes being thrown at the tributaries. “Ang mga basura sa ating tributaries, kahit na sa upland area or upstream area, unti-unting dadaloy patungo sa mas malaking katawang tubig. Ayaw natin ‘yon dahil makakain sila ng mga lamang dagat, ng mga hayop na makikita natin sa karagatan.”

(The wastes in our tributaries, whether in upland areas or upstream areas, will flow toward larger bodies of water. We do not want that to happen for they will just be eaten by life forms under it.)

Despite conducting tons of clean-up activities, water pollution will still continue if wastes would not be properly disposed and if there is no strict implementation of proper waste management. Cleaning our waterways and surroundings will not magically happen overnight. More so, it cannot be done with just the two hands of Nanay Nila. But with people like her, we remain hopeful that cleaner water bodies can be seen on the horizon.

Aside from Bantay Kalikasan and the community of Baseco, the 4Ocean clean-up activity was also participated by Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, and City Government of Manila - Department of Public Services.