The Smokey Mountain was a fishing village in the 1960s before becoming a dumping ground for four decades that soon became the source of precarious sources of livelihood for thousands of people.
The first conflict was initiated when the mountain was closed by the government due to its gaining international infamy in 1995. With the bulldozing of residents' houses and their exclusion in the construction of the new site, now a failed project, promising affordable housing for local residents, the local community was left with neither land nor employable skills. Their only option was to follow the trash trail and this in turn caused the creation of Payatas, also known as Smokey Mountain 2 and other landfills that dot the bustling capital.
The Payatas rubbish dump collapsed in 2000 killing hundreds of people in the outskirts of Manila.. The avalanche of
rubbish and mud swept away the flimsy wooden homes of scavengers
who worked on the dump..
After the 2000 collapse of the landfill involving the death of some 500 people, stronger regulations were enforced whereby a license was required to be a scavengers and children were banned from the site. These legislations, albeit comprehensive, were too idealistic. For example, the goal to convert open dumps into sanitary landfills (Republic Act No. 9003) was only achieved in 5 to 10 % of the cases.
The government initiated talks to introduce a system of burning waste to generate electricity (incineration) for local residents. This will impact scavengers who rely on waste to make a living and drive them further down into poverty, not too mention the toxic health risks for the local community associated with the incineration of plastic (Abc.net.au, 2018).
On a brighter note, the privatized initiative to transform waste generated into electricity and using the scavengers as recycling entrepreneurs is slowly burgeoning. One such example is Pangea Green Energy Phillipines which coverts methane produced from the dumpsite to pump into the generators. While environmentally-friendly short term solution, local environmental groups such as Greenpeace Philippines pointed out that this encourages to an irresponsible dumping of waste and does not provide long-term, sustainable solutions that aim at waste reduction (France-Presse, 2018).
What happened to Smokey Mountain is lost in the lengthy multidecade-long ongoing legal battle between state parties R-II builders, a Filipino construction company (Rappler, 2018). However, who bears the brunt of this the most is the displaced poor whose lives haven’t been improved by this botched project. The solution lies in improving the livelihood of the thousands of people by upskilling them so not to rely on the hazardous occupation of scavenging