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Smokey Mountain and Payatas dumpsites, Manila, Philippines


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 (, 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

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Smokey Mountain and Payatas dumpsites, Manila, Philippines
State or province:Manila, NCR
Location of conflict:Tondo
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Manufactured Products
Fruits and Vegetables
Industrial waste
Recycled Metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Smokey Mountain operated for more than 40 years consisting of over two million metric tons of waste. In 1969, a joint venture agreement, between the National Housing Authority (NHA) and R-II Builders Inc. (RBI) was made to build a low-cost housing project at Smokey Mountain. When Smokey Mountain closed down in 1995, many scavengers migrated to the Payatas dumpsite, where another large scavenging community arose. In 2000, a landslide at the Payatas dump killed hundred of scavengers. (Wikipedia)

Project area:100
Level of Investment for the conflictive project76,680,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:More than 80,000 living in the area
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Pangea Green Energy Philippines
R-II Builders
Relevant government actors:National Housing Authority, Home Guaranty Corporation
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Green Peace Manila, Payatas Alliance Recycling Exchange

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Arguments for the rights of mother nature


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsLand slides in the 2000 with an approximate death toll of 500 people
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:"Next time... Try recycling" Initiative by GreenPeace Philippines
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Republic Act 9003

Republic Act 9003

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

For love or money

Philippines turns trash into clean energy windfall

France-Presse, A. (2013). Philippines turns trash into clean energy windfall. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

Manila's waste scavengers are integrated into the recycling chain

van Kote, G. (2013). [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

Compromise over failed Smokey Mountain project 'unacceptable'

Rappler. (2016). Compromise over failed Smokey Mountain project 'unacceptable'. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

Surviving Smokey Mountain (2005). ABC Radio National - A World Without Waste: Surviving Smokey Mountain 07/01/2006. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

Government should learn form Payatas tragedy - Greenpeace

Greenpeace Philippines. (2000). Government should learn form Payatas tragedy - Greenpeace. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

2017 piece on the legal battle

Meta information

Contributor:Taran Arjun Dasani - [email protected] & Juan Miguel Verdadero - [email protected] supervised by Gabriel Weber
Last update22/10/2020
Conflict ID:3414



Source: Sanitation workers and scavengers pick their way through the refuse of the landfill in the Payatas district of Quezon City, Metro Manila. AKIRA KODAKA, Nikkei staff photographer. April 23, 2017