To ban or not to ban plastic bags

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which comes from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

They are ubiquitous. Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

However, less than 1 percent of the bags are recycled because it costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one. It costs $4,000 to process and recycle a ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold for $32.

If the economics don’t work, recycling efforts don’t work.

Cloth bag
We can save six plastic bags a week if we use a cloth bag. That’s 24 plastic bags a month, 288 plastic bags a year and 22,176 plastic bags in an average lifetime. If just one out of every five people in our country did this we would save 1,330,560,000,000 plastic bags over our life time.

There’s another reason why plastic bags should be banned. Plastic bags take between 20 and 1,000 years to break down in the environment. Even when they do break down they are not really gone. Plastic bags do not biodegrade rather, they photodegrade.

Top discards
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that plastic bags are the top discards collected in Philippine waters.

A discards survey in Manila Bay found that plastic bags comprised 51.4 percent of the flotsam in 2006 and 27.7 percent in 2010, according to the EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Greenpeace. Plastics in general, including plastic bags, made up 77 percent of the discards in 2006 and 76 percent in 2010.

In Laguna de Bay, plastic bags accounted for the biggest group of discards at 23 percent, according to a survey in September 2011.

LGUs support ban
Recognizing the threats posed by plastic bags to the environment, a growing number of municipalities and cities are now implementing ordinances aimed at reducing the use of the bags.

They include the following:
Metro Manila: Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Makati, Pasay and  Pasig
Antipolo City
Laguna: Biñan, Calamba City, Calauan, Los Baños, Luisiana, Paete, Kalayaan and Sta. Cruz
Cavite: Carmona and Imus
Quezon: Infanta and Lucban
Batangas City
Burgos, Pangasinan
Odiongan, Romblon
Sta. Barbara, Iloilo

The league of 27 municipalities of Nueva Ecija also signed a resolution declaring a ban on the use of plastic bags.

Subic Bay Freeport is the latest addition to the list.

Muntinlupa City reaped the benefit of banning not only plastic bags but also polysterene, commonly known as Styrofoam (a brand name) when a tropical storm struck last year. With its waterways free from plastic bags and Styrofoam debris, the city was flood-free despite the heavy rains brought by Tropical Storm “Falcon.”

The Metro Manila Development Authority, thus, strongly encourages local government units to adopt similar strong measures like what Muntinlupa has done.

For its part, the Laguna Lake Development Authority has issued Resolution No. 406 requiring local government units in the Laguna de Bay region to pass and implement an ordinance banning the use and distribution of thin-film, single-use, carry-out and nonbiodegradable plastic bags.

More countries are also banning the use of plastic bags:

Bangladesh was the first country to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags that led to  jute exports increasing by up to 70 percent.
Ireland introduced a “plastax” of 15 cents (now 22 cents) on single-use carrier bags. Plastic-bag use dropped by 95 percent.
Other countries include China, India (Himachal Pradesh), Britain (Modbury), South Africa, Rwanda and the United States (San Francisco).

Marine life choked
A United Nations official has called for worldwide ban on plastic bags. “Single-use plastic bags which choke marine life should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere,” said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Program. “There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”

The European Union also supports a ban on plastic shopping bags. “Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of. Now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades,” said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. “That’s why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags.”

Misleading comparison
Local ordinances banning plastic bags do not stipulate the use of paper bags. In fact, it promotes the use of reusable containers.

Plastic bags have a total carbon footprint of about six kilos of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilo of plastic. Paper’s carbon footprint is nearly one kilo of  CO2 per kilo of paper. It’s true that unabated deforestation causes floods.

But excessive rains and unpredictable climate patterns are the effects of global warming caused mostly by burning fossil fuel. And after the inundation, we see tons of used plastic bags littered all around, whose recycling and reprocessing should have long been enforced as a moral responsibility.

Reusable bags have lower environmental impact than all of the single-use bags, including both conventional HDPE bags and degradable bags.

Filipino ingenuity comes to the fore in these critical times with the Bayong Development Project. The project sees the bayong as the focus of a sustainable livelihood program with the two-fold benefit of boosting the economy and diminishing ecological imbalance.

Why the bayong? Natural and renewable resources like pandan, buri, sabutan, romblon and abaca abound in the Philippine countryside and do not entail huge carbon emissions in their harvest, processing and production.
In addition, bayong weaving is part of our cultural heritage. With the global concern over the proliferation of nonbiodegradable packaging, it exhibits potential for income and employment generation.

Since bayong weaving is labor-intensive, expanding demand for the product is seen to unleash its potential for massive employment. The domestic market can be protected from the influx of imported fabric bags from China. It is estimated that if every family above the poverty threshold buys a bayong at P100 a year, the domestic demand shall reach P1.3 billion annually.

It is further estimated that 40 percent of the total or P520 million will redound to the labor sector. Imagine how the amounts double if each family buys two bayongs, instead of one; one for the wet market, another for dry goods.

Another plus factor for bayong production is the absence of rural-urban bias, and gender or age bias. While the rural areas would supply the resources, the urban areas would serve as production centers. With a minimal investment and low technology, anyone can be a small entrepreneur. A farmer can get incentives to plant the required materials from the growing demand for bayong.

Let’s impress on everyone our duty to protect the environment and our own health from the hazards of plastics. Together, let us keep our economy afloat by patronizing our local resources and talents. “Cut down on the use of plastic! Use bayong!”

By: Sonia S. Mendoza

(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Edition, Opinion Section: Talk of the Town, April 1, 2012 p. A-14)

Notice of Disconnection: Living off grid in Wisconsin

“Hi everyone.  We’ve decided to live off grid.  Goodbye to light and water bills, sudden power interruptions, etc…”
Remember those dreaded words in red ink, the final warning if you haven’t paid your bills for more than three months? Well, we’ve written our own notice of disconnection, and we are loving every minute of it, including the many challenges.

Living off grid is not for the faint of heart.  It entails sacrifice; awareness raised two levels higher than the typical zombie state, and a measure of bravado that you are the master of your own convenience-fitted destiny.  No more lifelines to the utility giants.  You’re on your own.

Doing this takes meticulous planning over time.   Honestly, as with everything else, necessity was the mother of invention in our case.  My husband wanted to build our home far from the road, deep within our property.  This entailed being about 1800 feet from the town grid, which would have cost us a fortune to connect to.  Being an engineer, he proceeded to design an independently functioning home.

Let there be light
People in the United States have this mistaken notion that off grid means no electricity.  Guests from Phoenix were coming over to stay at our house, and were warned by friends that there would be no electricity.  That is entirely possible.  After all, off grid simply means not connected to the utility line. So the arrangement could be anywhere from a dinner by candlelight and drawing water from a well arrangement to our sophisticated set-up.

Our journey to the light, literally, started at the point of basic necessities. We determined our basic requirements.  We would need a refrigerator/freezer, a washing machine, lights, TV, computers, a coffee maker and a water kettle. Here is where sacrifice comes in. Other heat generating equipment had to be given up because they consumed too much energy. Hair dryers were a no-brainer (I never use one), but we had a considerable argument over the dishwasher and clothes dryer, before I finally agreed.

Hot water is a must, but that was going to be addressed by another energy source; more on that later.

From this list, my engineer husband computed the daily consumption in terms of kilowatt-hours, and determined how many solar panels and storage batteries we would need. At present, we have 21 panels, laid out at a 45-degree angle on our roof.  According to my husband, this angle is meant to maximize sun exposure, given that our location on the globe is at a 45-degree to the sun.  Go figure. I am not an engineer.

The energy collected is stored in batteries, and then channeled into the house through an inverter. You need to be constantly aware of sun incidence.  It dips pretty low in November and December, at which time you might need to cut down on use, or attach a diesel run generator as back up, to re-charge the batteries. You also have to be checking the data panel everyday.  Sometimes, due to moisture or other reasons, the system can trip and switch off, ceasing the crucial energy collection during daylight hours.

In our year of living off grid, we’ve only been at a critically low level during the weeklong spell of overcast skies around Thanksgiving.  We didn’t have the back-up generator yet, so we resorted to using gas lamps for three days, and kept the TV and computers off.  Since installing a genset, we haven’t had to use it, ironically.  Still, it’s always good to have back up.

During summer, when the sun shines for more than twelve hours a day, the system provides enough energy to power even a window type air conditioner. We are always mindful of our use though, switching of all unnecessary lights, and not leaving the TV idly on during the day, just for sound accompaniment.

The scariest part of independent living is being on your own.  Like leaving the nest for the first time, you’ve got only your wits about you to stay afloat.  No more incessant calls to Meralco to repair the line and “be quick about it!”  Now is the time to hone your problem solving skills.

Planning is key in any new endeavor. We gathered the sun incidence averages for a year, and quickly saw that November and December would be critical. Our three days of darkness in November were caused by two converging factors. We missed a full day of collection during a sunny day because, busy are we were with our guests, we didn’t notice that the system had tripped again. Second, there was an unusual spell of overcast skies for about six days straight. Having decided that you will go solar, learn as much as you can about the system from your supplier.  When something arises, don’t panic. Just go back to the manual, and see if there is a DIY solution (like simply turning on the switch when it trips). In the worst-case scenario, you can call your supplier.

At first glance, it looks like the situation could be an engine for personal growth, at the very least.  You learn something new, and how to stand on your own, utilities-wise. But the real advantage of this setup lies in being independent not only of the solutions an entity like Meralco can provide, but also of the problems it creates.

In the recent weather disturbance in the United States east coast, a massive snowstorm dumped several inches of snow unseasonably early, in late October, when the leaves where still on the trees.  The trees became so heavy; they toppled over and brought down power lines, cutting off electricity in millions of homes.  In such a scenario, ours would have been the only house in the area with light. 

In this country with its perennial brown-outs (power outages in our Quezon City home are perpetually caused by a truck ramming onto a post on J.P. Rizal Ave., which is all the way across Katipunan Road in the next barangay, but which shares our area designation of Vice Grid 42), being off grid would make you the envy of your neighborhood.

After all these discourses on the finer points of living by solar power, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about cost.  I attended a presentation by some environmental science students of the Ateneo de Manila University last April 2011, and the price per watt for solar panels hovered around $2.80. I believe it has done a nose-dive in the past year, to about a third of the price. And it just keeps getting better!

Next issue is Part II: Rain, rain, come my way and “It’s hotter than hell in here”
By Victoria Mendoza Fritz

(Reprinted with permission from the Business World Online Edition, Mar. 16-17, 2012, Weekender (S3), pp. 1-2).

Baguio City Sans Pine Trees

Outrage! Rallies! Protests! Court Suits! These are the everyday headlines in my hometown which is Baguio, supposedly the summer capital of the Philippines. The whole government used to transfer to this city because of the cool, green temperature even in summer. Not anymore. Baguio is now becoming another concrete jungle punctuated with squatters all over its mountains. And now the ShoeMart (SM) branch of Baguio is proposing a 7-level project that will cut another 182 trees. Somehow they think it will perfume their project if they say that the trees will be earthballed and relocated in their property. Tree Doctors and Experts – Serafin Metilla and Chito Bertol says it is very difficult to do this to pine trees because pine trees have such spread out sensitive roots that once the roots are injured, the whole tree dies. Ask the DENR an example of pine trees that they have successfully transferred or earthballed and they will show you NOTHING. For one thing, the DENR does not have the proper machines to relocate established trees. In the United States, it cost one million dollars ($1M) to earthball and transfer an established oak tree.

SM repeatedly tells the public that only 182 trees will be affected. Let me tell you the truth. SM Baguio was the former Pines Hotel opposite the Vallejo Hotel. When the mall was built, 473 trees were cut. When they added the Call Center, another 100 trees were cut. With this latest project with 1,000 slots for parking, a water catchment or cistern that is capable of holding 6.9 million liters and a roof garden that will try to “simulate” nature – 182 trees will die. Get your calculators out and you have 755 trees massacred for this giant entity that calculates to earn P1 million a day, just on parking alone. With a roof garden, perhaps 6 meters of soil in depth , how can you accommodate the roots of a pine tree? How will you address the drainage? On top of that, do you know that Baguio has FIVE crisscrossing fault lines? In 1990 we lost more than 3,000 lives due to an earthquake. One crack on that water catchment or cistern and you have a deluge that will pour into Session Road and probably reach the Public Market unless the water path directs its flow to University of the Cordillera across Gov. Pack Road first. So there you have another school with hundreds of students that will be affected plus pedestrians trekking in red, thick mud into town and into the mall. With no roots to hold the erosion in check and just a reinforced retaining wall that has no guarantee of leaching, what a disaster waiting to happen!

Do you have a tree in your backyard? If you do, you are a millionaire. A 100 year old tree is valued at P18 million pesos. A 50 year old tree is valued at P9 million pesos. These trees that will be sacrificed for a parking lot are 20 to 40 years old. If you value them at P4 million pesos, you are throwing away P728 million pesos. These trees give free fertilizer. The pine leaves and acorns that fall, decay and decompose thus enriching your soil. The old bark falls and regenerates with new cover. The insects, birds and fungi  that you find in their natural habitat will no longer have a home. A 30 year old tree absorbs the emissions of 3 buses, carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, vital to the very breath of life. Can you imagine what will happen to the quality of air in the city? Emissions of 546 buses will stay and linger in what was once the summer capital of the Philippines. Add to that the jeepneys, other vehicles and motorcycle emissions, you have a veritable nightmare for persons suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments. The roots that hold the soil will no longer be there during the 6 rainy months and strong typhoons. SM boasts they will plant 50,000 trees in a period of three years. Well, it takes 50 years for a pine tree to reach full maturity. Meanwhile the new, small and puny pine trees that will be planted cannot give the same benefits that these established pine trees can offer. And where will the 50,000 trees be planted in the city proper? You will probably go to Sto. Tomas Hill to plant that many.   This is a good half an hour away from the city. There are no roads that can accommodate 546 buses in that area. Shall we sacrifice health for a daily intake of P1 million a day for SM? In a meeting with Mr. Hans Sy, he informed us that his “real” expansion was China. Then, why oh why expand in Baguio?

One parking slot has an average of 20 turnovers in a day. If you charge P35 for the parking slot and multiply that by 20 users, you earn P700 a day for that one slot. Now multiply that by 1,000 and you get a hefty sum of P700,000. The present mall has at least 400 slots to begin with. Get your calculators out and add those 400 slots as well. Now you know why SM is determined to put up this 7 level project.

Let me give you another scenario. SM has bought the PNR (Philippine National Railways) property near the Victory Bus Station. If you remember, you would take the bus in this terminal to catch the train in Damortis, Pangasinan. In that property, there are no trees. Why can’t SM build their 7 level project in that area? It is a 5 minute walk to the mall. Add a tram – the very first of its kind in the Philippines, and along the way showcase a winding garden that displays the flowers that every float carries during the “Panagbenga” Flower Festival. For the elderly and the physically challenged, the tram would be a wonderful way to go to the mall. Offer the valet service for those collecting their groceries and purchased articles in the mall and there you have more employment for Baguio citizens without harming or cutting one tree. I guess this cannot be envisioned by those overzealous architects, designers and engineers of SM. You not only add a new feature – a tram, you also save 170 trees. Twelve (12) trees have already been earthballed ready for their final death. A Dr. Pajillon from Los Banos was sent to testify at court about this earthballing of pine trees. When asked if he could give an example area where they successfully transferred pine trees, he had no answer. If you ask DENR what happened to those gorgeous Acacia trees that were supposed to have been transferred from Fort Bonifacio (Global City) to a protected area, the answer will be the same – No where!

To add insult to injury, do you know that SM does not pay Income Tax to Baguio City? It pays to Cavite where the BIR National Office is located. What is paid in Baguio is the Real Estate Tax and the business permits to include the vendors’ permits. Unfortunately we have a Baguio City Council that has been cowed and lured into an illusion of traffic decongestion. The City Engineers must have been more than eager to give their approval for such a project. In a meeting with the City Urban Coordinator, I was informed there was an ordinance to limit buildings or construction to five (5) stories. So, why an approval for a 7 level project? The Regional Office of DENR took a year to give its ECC Clearance. Does Mr. Clarence Baquilat know of experts who can assure the citizenry that those earthballed trees will survive? If he does, can he pinpoint a location where they have successfully relocated established pine trees? I would dearly love to see such an area. I would love to call on Serafin Metilla (Bonsai  and Tree Expert) and Chito Bertol (President of Manila Seedling Bank) to certify that earthballing of pine trees can be a successful endeavour.

A Temporary Protection Order was issued by the Court (Branch 5) in Baguio. This Branch handles all environmental issues. Until this case is resolved, the building of the 7 level project of SM is on hold. Open your email, your google and facebook. You will see all the ads placed by SM. During the rallies, pictures of the event were on the front pages of the local papers. Did you hear a peep in the Big 3? Not a peep in the Star, Inquirer or Bulletin. When a giant is involved, especially one that regularly advertises every week, the “Silence of the Lambs” is heard. Self-Censorship dominates. Currently it is the Opinion Writers that take up the advocacy. SM has hired writers to counter the issues mentioned by the protesters. SM has applied for a LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) Certificate. I wonder if the cutting of 755 trees will be taken into consideration for this application. I guess not.

By Tes B. Choa

Introducing MEF’s Zero Waste Academy

After 13 long years of conducting trainings and seminars on solid waste management and delivering talks and lectures on other environmental issues and concerns in and out of the country, MEF is proud to present its new brainchild, the Zero Waste Academy: Mother Earth Foundation’s focused approach to popularize Zero Waste and mainstream Environmental Education.

The Zero Waste Academy, MEF’s training program
beginning 2012, has three (3) major components:
1) Certificate Courses for Local Government Executives, Schools and ESWM educators;
2) Teacher Training on Environmental Education; and
3) Issue-based Workshops.

The Teacher Training, as part of our Environmental Education program, involves Project Water Education for Teachers (Project WET) and Project Learning Tree (PLT). Project WET is a US-based, non-profit water education program for educators and young people and can be found in all US States, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the Philippines. The learning process through environmental education is focused on the engagement of the learners through exploration, investigation, and hands-on activities. It takes the learners to a journey that encourages them how to think and not what to think. Project Learning Tree, on the other hand, is an award-winning international module that has been brought to the Philippines five years ago as a guide for educators to bring the forest into the minds of the youth, making them understand and appreciate the environment they are responsible for. MEF is currently the lead agency in implementing both Project WET and PLT in the Philippines.

Finally, the Issue-Based Workshops focus on specific environment-related issues and concerns ranging from global warming and climate change to safe food, toxics, and waste-to-energy technologies.

Be among the first graduates of the Philippines’ firstever Zero Waste Academy!

For more details, please check this website:

PROFILES: Mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez

Aside from bringing the City of San Fernando to the heights it has never reached before with his style of leadership, indomitable will and his “Magsilbi Tamu” tenet, Mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez has become the epitome of public service to many people. He is one of the few who have managed to serve in various capacities in all three branches of government: judiciary, legislative and executive.
From the ranks as a court stenographer, Mayor Oca rose to become an ardent human rights and litigation lawyer and founding president of, among others, the group MAYAP or Movement for the Advancement of Young Advocates of Pampanga that fought for human rights especially during the dark days of the Martial Law era.

Mayor Oca’s experience in the executive branch ran from being Pampanga’s provincial administrator shortly after the 1986 EDSA Revolution to being San Fernando’s city mayor for two terms now.

As a leader, he advocates for strong private sector participation in governance. That is why when the Public Governance System (PGS) was introduced to the City of San Fernando by the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, he readily accepted the idea and sought the help of various sectors, particularly the private sector, in running the affairs of government. For all his efforts, together with responsible citizens, CSFP was awarded Galing Pook 2008 awardee for “making governance a shared responsibility.”

Since then, the City of San Fernando has been garnering national awards and has risen from the 3rd class component city it was when he assumed office in 2004 to become a 1st class component city in less than four years. Moreover, the City has reached the Institutionalized stage on the PGS pathway (one of the two cities that have done so) thereby entrenching his advocacy towards an effective government and a responsible citizenship in the City of San Fernando.
 (Editor’s Note: Profiles is a new section of Earth Matters featuring MEF’s partners.)

Newport, Rhode Island: A Journey into the Past

Visiting with my daughter Patricia in New York has always meant an adventure is in the horizon. Being much younger and bolder, Pat’s dream is to see and experience as much of this amazing planet as she possibly can, and having a compliant and indulgent mother in tow makes for the perfect partnership!

Through the years the two of us have ‘done’ Prague in a freezing cold winter, Paris and Provence in the mellow autumn of southern France, and Istanbul in the beautiful Mediterranean spring.   Last year, unable to make the necessary preparations for another European visit, we decided to ‘do’ a place in the US instead.   We decided on Newport, Rhode Island.

Newport is located on the eastern seaboard of the United States, and is well known as the playground of the (very) rich and prominent families in American society during the turn of the century.   The “summer homes” of these wealthy families are a favorite tourist destination for locals and foreign tourists alike, and its fame is well deserved.  

Getting there meant an early train ride from the suburb where Pat lives to downtown Manhattan Penn Station to catch the outbound trains from New York.  Not to discourage my readers, but Penn Station is like a marketplace, and I have developed a deathly fear of such places, including Port Authority and Grand Central Station.   Like a ‘probinsiyana’ I get confused with the complexity and intricacy of the comings and goings of the trains, never having learned the daring and independence of the New Yorkers. 

(So I was a very tense, fearful senior citizen on that spring morning, listening to the garbled announcements on the PA and ready to rush for our platform as soon as it was announced   It didn’t help that my senior ears could hardly make out what was being said, in what seemed to be a foreign language!  But God is good, and we made our train with time to spare, and we settled down for the ride to Rhode Island, to the seaside town of Newport!)
The train ride was a refreshing change from the dark tunnels and underground stations of the subway, which we took every day.   It was mostly above ground, and once we had passed the railway yards, the scenery turned green and beautiful with the fresh growth of new leaves and budding flowers.   We passed rolling, newly planted fields, small picturesque towns and leafy woods and everything looked peaceful and well ordered.  It was a truly relaxing ride and soon enough we had reached our destination.

A 15-minute cab ride brought us right into the center of Newport, which is a small walking town, neat and pretty with  quaint small shops and restaurants looking like  they had stepped out of a 1900’s catalogue.   The Victorian inn we had booked was only a 15 minute downhill (or uphill!) walk to downtown, good aerobic exercise for us.  We had chosen the master suite which had a huge four poster bed so high one needed a stepstool to get in.  A massive wardrobe could have swallowed four suitcases of clothes!  We even had an adjoining ‘sitting room’ with a fireplace and very un-Victorian amenities like an HD tv set, a fridge and an electric stove in the tiny kitchenette.   Everything was done up in traditional Victorian colors and decor – patterned wallpaper in dark mossy green with pink roses, with thoughtful and charming touches so characteristic of that period.   We were simply enchanted with our little room!

We didn’t bother to unpack, instead rushed out to catch the afternoon sunshine.  The houses we passed on our downhill walk looked to be hundreds of years old, but they were all well preserved and obviously well maintained, and most of them had been converted to inns.  Reaching the main street we noticed that all the restaurants and shops sported uniform old fashioned signs with gold lettering.  For me this added to the charm of the place, and I felt that we had been transported through time to the past!  Just beyond the main street you could see the quay, and many sloops and masted boats at anchor.   Obviously these were tourist boats today, but one could easily imagine how busy this port was many years ago, with those boats bringing products from other ports to this little town. 

But the weather changed, and it began to rain!   Pat and I were caught without an umbrella, so we rushed into the first souvenir shop to get one.   I got myself a “sou’wester” (jacket) as well, as I was already shivering from the cold.   Still we continued with our exploratory walk, wandering in and out of the lanes and alleys, until the rumblings from our stomachs told us it was dinnertime.    We sloshed back to our hotel in the rain, changed to warmer clothes, and braved the heavy downpour to walk to an Italian restaurant that had caught our eye earlier.  The food was excellent, well worth the drenching we were subjected to!

The next day was our “Mansions” day!   And the sun was out !!!   We boarded the $1.00 trolley-like shuttle and proceeded to immerse ourselves in this world of bygone wealth and luxury, epitomized by the grand, huge estates which were the “summer homes” of the industrial giants who made their fortunes at the turn of the century.    There are many residences large enough to be called mansions all over Newport and its suburbs, but 6 or 7 are famous for their splendor, architecture and luxurious interiors, The Elms, The Breakers, Marble House, and Rose- cliff among them.  These houses are located in a beautiful green part of the city called Bellevue Avenue, and all the streets are shaded by ancient oaks, maples and elm trees.  We chose to visit the Breakers, the 70-room  home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and considered the grandest of the mansions, and The Elms, owned by coal magnate Julius Berwind, and was patterned after an 18th century French chateau outside Paris.  Both homes were built on the cliff side of Newport and therefore had an ocean view beyond the well manicured, extensive lawns and ornamental gardens.  The Breakers is built closer to the Cliffside, so that the sound of the ocean can be heard from its windows.   The Elms is named for the lovely and ancient elm trees scattered over its extensive grounds.  It’s impossible to describe the richly decorated halls and rooms, one has to be there to experience in some way the fabulous lifestyles of these families, the “nobles” of American society.   We tried to see and appreciate as much as we could, but it took the whole day just to do the two houses.   I must confess that after a while one gets jaded with all the gilt and glitter all around you.  

Our third day was R and R day, in other words, shopping and eating.  Newport’s famous clam chowder is everything they say it is, and we certainly gorged on the stuff.  For dinner we walked almost 2 kms to get to a seafood specialty restaurant, where we stuffed ourselves with two giant bowls of lobsters, clams, squid and shrimps.  We were certainly thankful for the long walk back to our hotel!

Shopping in Newport is surprisingly good; aside from the mandatory souvenir shops there are a number of high end stores for clothes, furniture and household accessories, and food.  After all, Newport is a known tourist destination for Americans, and we were told that in summertime the pedestrian traffic in the streets downtown is quite heavy.   Prices would also be sky high, of course, and long waits for seating in restaurants is to be expected.   But Newport is charming and full of surprises, and it is on my recommended list of places to see in America. 

It’s a welcome change from the stereotyped freeway-shopping mall- supermarket formula of most US cities and allows you an intimate glimpse into the lives and times of the industrial giants who helped to make the US a world power.   Don’t forget to put this quaint, lovely town on your bucket list!

By Tootsie Moreno Vicente

On Being an Eco-Friendly Model Teacher

MEF started it all
It was October 2010 when Mother Earth Foundation, headed by Sir Froilan Grate, came into the lives of CRACMES teachers. He introduced us into a new world of Environmental Concepts.  Through the seminars and workshops given by MEF, we were awakened to the reality that our mother earth needs our care, and that we should do our part in taking care of it.  The students became aware of the value of the things around them, the importance of trees and water, and the place where we live in. MEF taught us many lessons that we will forever be grateful for. I became aware that we are in a position to save mother earth. I realized that if we could just love and take care of the earth, we will see the beauty of life. I know it’s never too late; we can work it out.

The Green School, Blue School Network
One of the programs of MEF was the Green School, Blue School Network, which was launched on October 18, 2010. As part of this program, we had some requirements to comply with to be able to step up in ranking. First, the teachers should undergo trainings and workshops on environmental education like Project Water Education for Teachers (Project WET) and Project Learning Tree (PLT). We were required to make lesson plans  integrating therein environmental concepts. Then we had to organize a group, The Mother Earth Kids Club, composed of young boys and girls which will be trained to become young eco-heroes of the school and the community. We also had to teach in our classes what we learned from the seminars and workshops.
Everyone in our school participated actively in this program, specially the teachers, students and even the janitors. We were so hopeful that after a year we will achieve something good. We were aiming then to become an eco-friendly school. Now we are glad that we were given Rank 3 in this Green School, Blue School Network program of MEF. With the help of MEF, we were also awarded 4th place in the DENR’s National search for Sustainable and Eco-Friendly School last September 2011.  All of us were proud of our achievements.

Search for Eco-Friendly Class and Model Teacher on Sustainability and Environmental Education
Then, the search for eco-friendly class and model teacher came. I know it was one way of MEF to motivate the teachers and students to be eco-friendly. Everybody was entitled to join. In my case, I was not after the award or the recognition. I joined the search because I knew it was something worthy.  And even if there was no award or prize, I would still apply and do the things taught by MEF. I enjoyed  the activities, especially decorating my room and teaching my students about the environment. The first season was tough, though, and only a few teachers joined. It was tough because of the set criteria. We were required to do lesson plans integrating environmental concepts and principles, apply Project WET and PLT activities in class, be a role model to the students and so on. I’m happy I met the criteria and won in the first season. I was not expecting to win but I’m so proud I did.

Another thing that I should be happy about was the achievements of my students. Last school year 2010-2011, I handled Grade 4 class. Though they didn’t win the search for eco-friendly class, still I’m proud of them because they have been applying what they learned on environmental concepts until now. They also received several awards on the poster and slogan making contests, and they participated actively in every activity of MEF and of the school. As their teacher, I am happy and proud of what they have accomplished.

This school year, as I received my award as model teacher on solid waste management, my Grade 3 students also received theirs. They were awarded as an eco-friendly model class last December 2011. They received a certificate, MEF bags, school supplies, and food for Christmas party, courtesy of Mother Earth Foundation.  My students were so pleasantly surprised with their award. I can see in their faces the happiness they felt when they were awarded by MEF during the Christmas party. I’m so proud of them because at their young age, they are well aware of their responsibilities to the environment and to the community. I hope they will continue doing these good things.

Class Activities/Policies
During the implementation of the Damayan for Zero Waste Program in class, the teachers were required to do some classroom activities, like Zero Waste Monday, wherein there should be no waste or trash on Mondays in every classroom. Another is, Mother Earth Kids Time every Wednesday, when the members of MEF Kids Club will share and teach some environmental lessons in class. Then, the Poster and Slogan Making contests which were participated in by students from Grades 1-6. We also taught them how to recycle and use a compost pit for the biodegradable trash.

There were also classroom policies set for each class, like proper segregation of trash, and the MEF Kids Club members were the ones monitoring their implementation. Along with the classroom activities and policies, the teachers were also advised to decorate the classrooms with environmental pictures or posters, like The Ten Simple Things You Can Do for the Environment, Ten Ways to Conserve Energy, and so on. These will serve as reminders to pupils to do something good for the environment.

Winning the Search
I will never forget that moment in March 2011, during our meeting, when our principal announced that I won the Search for the Eco-Friendly Model Teacher (first season). My first reaction was of course, one of surprise and happiness. I was not expecting the award, though my co-teachers kept on saying that I might win in the search.  But what excited me the most was the prize-- a trip to Palawan which was one of my dream places to visit.

Being chosen as an eco-friendly model teacher is an honor, but I know it carries with it lots of responsibilities. Imagine leading the school, and being a role model to the students and teachers in doing good things for  the environment.  It never entered my mind that by just doing simple things, I will receive this kind of recognition. I was so flattered of course but I had lingering doubts on whether I can discharge my responsibilities as a model teacher. I was afraid I might fail, but I nevertheless took it as challenge.

One big test for me on being a model teacher was being asked to be a facilitator in a workshop, which is my weakness actually as I have a very low self-confidence. I was doubtful on whether I can do things right. During the Turn-over Ceremony and Workshop on Eco-Friendly Schools last October 18, 2011, I was asked by Sir Froilan to present a 10-minute talk about Curriculum Integration of Environmental Concepts. I repeatedly begged off because I know I couldn’t do it. But he never stopped convincing me. He encouraged me and even said, ”You’re the perfect person to do it because you’re practicing what you’ve learned on environmental concepts”. So I accepted the challenge. I still don’t know how I mustered my self-confidence, but I finished my talk with flying colors.  It was like magic that I was able to discuss my topic continuously, without being nervous at all.  Maybe it was because it came straight from my heart and I really love what I’m doing.

I was so happy that day, not only because of the award given me as an ‘eco-friendly model teacher’ but because I had proven to myself that I did something worthy. When I saw the faces of those people listening to me, I felt proud of myself again. It was so overwhelming when I heard the applause, the appreciation and the congratulatory greetings after my talk. I could not express how happy I was at  that time. It was unforgettable.

Another thing that I should be proud of was the opportunity to meet some foreign visitors. There were so many times that our school was visited by foreign delegates from the USAID, Rotary Club, Zero Waste International and others. We’re so proud that they considered CRACMES  as an eco-friendly school. And every time these visitors were around,  I was called upon to assist and tour them around the school. During these times, Ma’am Zeny Mallillin, our principal, and Sir Froilan always introduced me as a model teacher of the school. And this made me feel so flattered and overwhelmed.

Palawan Tour
Aside from the certificate given to us by Mother Earth Foundation as winners of the Search for Eco-Friendly Model Teachers, we were given another award--a trip to Palawan which excited me the most. When the search was launched, as I said I was not really after the prize, since I know that as a teacher, it is my responsibility to teach my students whatever I have learned about the environment. I am happy doing these things so much so that the trip was a big bonus. I am so happy with the opportunity given to us by MEF.  Sometimes I ask, do I deserve this award? Isn’t it too much for the little things I’ve done so far? Then I realized something:  if you are doing things that are worthwhile not just for you but also for others, the reward will double up. It will just fall onto your lap without even asking for it. Sir Froilan was always thanking me for my efforts in doing something good for the environment,  but we at CRACMES should be the ones to thank MEF and him for the great lessons he had given us, for waking us up, and making us  realize many things about taking care of mother earth.

Last February 18-20, 2012, I headed to Palawan along with Sir Joey Robrigado, winner of the second season. The trip excited me and I told myself I should enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It made me realize not to be contented within the four corners of the classroom. We should go out, explore and see the beauty of the world because it has lots of things to offer. Though I have travelled to some parts of the country, Palawan was so different. The place was amazing, not just because of its beautiful spots but also on account of its cleanliness, the green forests, and the warm welcome of the people living there. They were so kind and accommodating. I even talked to some locals and asked if there are crimes happening there, and they said none, that their place is so peaceful. I hope Manila is also like Palawan, in terms of cleanliness and the kindness and hospitality of its people.

The Palawan trip also taught me some lessons in life, that when you travel, you should enjoy the best you can, and forget your problems and worries for a while. Take pictures, jump and shout to show your happiness, write poems, notes or stories while on trip, build memories and leave footsteps in that place. But we must also remember that travelling is not just about having fun, sightseeing and picture taking; it’s also about knowing the history of the place, its economy and culture, and the life of the people living there. While on Palawan tour, I met some people and it was nice to have conversations with them-- the guides, drivers, boatmen, vendors, and co-tourists. We talked about how lovely their place is. That’s why I envy them, I envy how disciplined they are, and the kind of environment they have. The place was so clean. I noticed that there were trash cans along the streets, and you can’t see trash thrown anywhere.  Can we be like them? Can we also duplicate the things they do to protect the environment? Can we do our share as citizens of the country? I know we can, if we just work hand in hand. We can protect the environment, we can save lives specially the young ones, and save Mother Earth.

We left Palawan with a smile but with a heavy heart also because of the limited time. Three days were not enough to explore the place. As we bid goodbye to that beautiful place, I promised myself that I will come back and discover other things about it. I will never forget the good things about Palawan, the images of the clean and beautiful places, and the friendliness of its people.

We would like to thank MEF for sponsoring the trip. It was a wonderful experience. We can not thank you enough for the opportunity you’ve given us in exploring the place. It was awesome.

During the entire year of MEF’s program with CRACMES, there were so many life- changing experiences that happened. One is the big transformation of our school. I once heard the comment of a foreign visitor that he was amazed with  the cleanliness and best practices of the school. Some teachers also told me that their lifestyles changed a bit by practicing the lessons taught by MEF. There were also some inspiring stories from parents on the good things done by their children. And it’s a happy feeling when I heard they did something good for the environment. I once said this in my talk-- teach the children to love and care for mother earth, whether they are our students or not. Lead them, guide and mold them to become young eco-heroes.

Another thing I learned about this whole activity is that, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher or not, whether you’re young or old, educated or illiterate, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, famous or unknown.  As long as you have a heart and do something worthy and noble, you are considered a hero. We can make a difference, and we can be HEROES.

Ms. Lourdes R. Cabrilles 

Congressman Reynaldo A. Calalay Memorial Elementary School (CRACMES)
Brgy. Damayan, Quezon City