In 1956, Sta. Barbara was the cleanest town in the country. More than four decades later, it was the dirtiest in Iloilo province.
“You can see garbage anywhere, everywhere and anytime you want to,” says Mayor Isabelo Maquino.
Aside from the filth, a dumpsite was right in the center of town–five meters away from the public market and 10 meters from the communal artesian well.
“It was a local version of Smokey Mountain”, then vice mayor Maquino says.
Petitions flooded the municipal government’s office to clean up the rubbish because of the resulting stench and health hazards. The petitions, however, only gathered dust.
When he assumed office in 2001, Mayor Maquino regarded the garbage problem as top priority. But he didn’t intend it to be the government’s job alone.
“I told the people it’s high time we join hands to solve this problem,” he says.
The former dumpsite is now a productive vegetable garden. An ecological park was set up at the alternative dumpsite in a barangay. Biodegradable materials are stored and turned into compost that are distributed free to local farmers. Non-biodegradable products are recycled and sold to junk shops, and park workers use the proceeds to hold social activities.
“From basura naging pera (From garbage to cash)”. That’s not a slogan, that’s a reality in Sta. Barbara,” the mayor says.
The town also strictly implements a “no segregation, no collection” policy on garbage collection. Households are given back their trash if they do not comply and some have actually been fined for repeat offenses.
Sta. Barbara currently has an 87% garbage collection efficiency and aims to achieve a zero-waste status by 2012–ten years after it started its Ecological Solid Waste Management Program.
The town, which will be the site for a new airport for Panay Island, has been designated as a local resource center for solid waste management in the country.
Continuing education, especially among the youth, is being undertaken to plant the seeds of cleanliness.
“This is a good example that if we all work together, nothing is impossible,” the mayor says.
This program is recognized as a Trailblazing Program, a finalist for the 2003 Galing Pook Awards.