November 16, 2008

Garbage blues

Just came from a barangay (meaning, village) meeting. The meeting was called by village officials to clarify issues arising from the "sudden" collection of garbage fees (meaning, money that residents have to pay before their garbage get hauled by government dump trucks).

It was not as if the meeting was called to hear opposition to the "new" policy and for the barangay (meaning, the village government) to retract the same. It hardly works that way. I myself went to the meeting primarily to become more familiar with the workings of my new local government, its faces and dynamics. To get immersed in the forensics about garbage was secondary, if it was in my mind at all.

Indeed, during the meeting it was impressed upon the audience that the local ordinance pertaining to the matter of garbage (and garbage fee) collection was already in place 3 years ago. It had undergone the whole consultative process and had gotten the approval of a "general assembly" of barangay residents. Sorry me, I and my household came to this village only in March this year. Even so, had I been here before, I would not have raised a whisper to oppose the policy. It would be nearly futile; I would just be going against a governance mindset that's long been ingrained among most local officials; a mind set that has continually borrowed durability from the prevailing political economy of this country -- no revenue, no service. The concept of "revenue" here goes beyond the more usual community tax, withholding tax, business tax and VAT. That is why we have this thing called "garbage collection fee".

Yes, the government, or to be more precise, the State, will always counter that this one is different; the garbage fee's concept is more borrowed from the concept of paying for the environmental cost of having one's wastes thrown back to earth.

Well, that's why I said arguing against the State is futile most of the time. There will always be excuses, the most brilliant of which is contained in the phrase "it does not work that way".

I once did peacefully confront an official of the purok (meaning, smaller village) where I used to live, when she came to my front door to remind me of my household's overdue garbage fee; I offered her a proposal. You see, days before, I did some calculations of the total taxes that I and my family pay the State each year by way of income and community taxes, goods and services purchased, etcetera; and came up with a general figure that can pay for some of the things that our purok badly needed for happy living. So I proposed to pay for the monthly salaries of two (2) security guards or to donate multi-colored (for the needed segregation) large garbage bins (with repair and replacement warranty to boot) to each household in our purok. In turn, the State (also popularly known as government) exempts me from all taxes.

I just thought it was a fairly great thing to have my community directly benefit from the taxes that I pay instead of "uploading" the latter and wait for the services to trickle down. If ever they trickle down. Well, sometimes in some places they do trickle down in the form of overpriced fertilizers.

Who would have disagreed with my proposal? Not my neighbors I was sure. But our purok official was an exception. She politely declined my proposal. "It just doesn't work that way," she said.


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