Most Filipinos take pride in having good hygiene. We take showers at least twice a day, or maybe even more when the weather is hot and humid. But when it comes to general cleanliness and orderliness of our surroundings, there is a lot of room for improvement. Sadly, visitors to our country have observed and complained about the trash in our cities, especially in public areas.
A friend related an incident she had witnessed at a fast-food chain. After feasting on a bucket of chicken, gravy and rice, a Filipino family just left the table without bringing their leftovers to the garbage bin. Meanwhile, two teenaged foreigners sat on the next table and cleaned up after eating. One of them even took the trash that the Filipino family left, which in turn, left my friend feeling embarrassed for all Filipinos.
A big pet peeve of mine is when people leave their trash inside the movie house, or when someone opens their car window to throw candy wrappers or a soft drink cans onto the street. These aren’t isolated incidents and most Pinoys will say they see this every day.
Filipino children as young as preschool are taught about recycling and that littering is bad. Year after year, teachers implement rules about cleanliness and keeping the classroom in order and the students follow this without any problems. So why can’t we do the same as adults? Despite us knowing that littering is shameful behavior, why does this attitude towards trash persist? What are we doing to change this habit?
There are Philippine Anti-Littering Laws
The greater Manila area has an Anti-Littering Law enacted since 1996 that was supposed to be strictly enforced in 2010. Penalties for violating the law cost violators between Php 500 ($10) to Php 1000 ($20) or community service for up to 16 hours, depending on the offense.
If a person is caught, it goes on his or her police record. If he or she refuses to pay the fine or do service, then he or she won’t be able to get an NBI clearance, which is necessary when applying for jobs or obtaining a loan. Outside of Metro Manila, provincial cities and towns have their own anti-littering ordinances. Most lawmaker profess that these should be “strictly implemented” but the reality is, after a few months, everyone takes these rules with a grain of salt.
“The mayors who are not performing, you make your city clean and peaceful. That is why you are being paid, that is why you are in your beautiful offices,” President Rodrigo Duterte said in his first few months of office.
Model of Cleanliness
Duterte, and to a great extent many Filipinos, look to Singapore for the model of cleanliness. It took the country more than three years to facilitate the changes but their government started with strict implementation in the 1960s via its Keep Singapore Clean campaign.
Their government also imposed high fines at around SIN $1,000 ($725) and spent substantial amounts of money to put trash bins and promotion materials on every corner. There was social pressure to follow the laws responsibly but the end result benefitted the country for decades. Singaporean children, who are now millennials, cultivated the habit of cleanliness in their surroundings.
In Japan, cleanliness is more of a personal goal and a sense of duty and discipline. They don’t rely on someone else to pick up after themselves and, like Filipino children, they are made to clean their classrooms after school.
So, what then is the problem with Filipinos?
The most obvious is the lack of implementation. Even good laws or ordinances won’t bear any effects if authorities have no will to execute the legislations. Increasing penalties might work or even the threat of jail time for repeat offenders could dissuade littering, but this is only a short-term solution.
Filipinos will complain first before understanding that the rules or laws are there for a good reason. Part of the problem is that the typical Filipino doesn’t really care much for his external space as long as his internal space is clean and comfortable.
Communal living and civic consciousness aren’t popular in the Filipinos psyche and in many cases, Pinoys simply go with the flow. “If others are doing it, then I might as well do it,” is a typical Filipino mindset.
Filipinos are also used to having minimum wage earners clean up after their mess. At fast-food joints, the food crew members double as busboys who clean the tables. In movie houses, janitors come in after every screening to sweep the floor and pick up the trash.
A change should come
If you’re a Filipino and reading this piece, then there’s a good chance you’re nodding your head in agreement. You know this problem with trash, cleanliness and orderliness has existed for a long time and you’re probably appalled that nothing concrete has been done.
What solution do you think will usher change? Will teaching Filipino children that being a street cleaner, maid, janitor or busboy aren’t lowly jobs change their attitude towards cleaning? Should local governments be given more incentives from the national government? Should there be a more aggressive cleanliness campaign from a government agency? Should an NGO or a private sector step in and help?
Why is it that when Filipinos are overseas, they are able to clean up and avoid littering? Isn’t it time we change our attitude about trash in this country?
Written by Rachel Cruz
Rachel Cruz is a freelance writer from Manila who wishes to build a new Philippines