Together with the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation, ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) conducted its first Learning Circle at the Ramon Magsaysay Center on December 1, 2022. The event featured an in-depth discussion of sustainable projects and programs that aim to reduce marine plastic pollution.

Among its key attendees were 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Gary Bencheghib, along with his siblings and co-founders of Sungai Watch, Sam Bengcheghib and Kelly Bengcheghib. They were also joined by Michelle Jularbal from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dr. Arlen Ancheta from the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), Sonia Mendoza from Mother Earth Foundation, Engr. Jocelyn Panen from Genetron International Marketing, and Angie Imperio from the Estero de Paco River Warriors. Jen Deomano Santos, Head of Advocacy Communications, External Relations and (concurrent) Head of Integration and Area Development of the ABS-CBN Foundation led the discussion.

“Is it possible to go back to a no-single-use-plastic world?”, Santos raised this question.

While it may be impossible to live without plastic in general because it is in everything we use, attendees agreed that we can still address the overproduction of single-use plastics. The event highlighted that the primary reason for this is the rampant production of single-use plastics by top corporations in the Philippines.

Sonia Mendoza, the founder of Mother Earth Foundation, suggests that the way forward is to minimize the production of single-use plastics and promote sustainable zero-waste lifestyles. She also emphasized the need for more corporate environmental responsibility and government intervention regarding waste management.

The Learning Circle also amplified the voices of frontline groups such as the River Warriors. Represented by Angie Imperio, the group raised first-hand experiences regarding the state of Manila’s estuaries. Among the estuaries with the most concerning pollution is Baseco Beach in Tondo, Manila. Notorious for its garbage-strewn shoreline, Imperio added that among their major clean-ups from the past 10 years, this location remains the most challenging due to the immense volume of trash embedded in the reclaimed sites near the compound.

Gary Bencheghib, Santos, and Mendoza collectively highlight that before we can start cleaning our oceans, we must first start small. Most plastics that enter the oceans are from houses directly connected to rivers and estuaries. Thus, by addressing the primary streams of pollution we can effectively minimize the flow of garbage toward our seas and oceans.

Dr. Arlen Ancheta, an environmental advocate, and professor from UST, resonates with this. According to her, starting small also means going beyond the physical and technical aspects of rehabilitation and tending to the social aspect of it. It is important to instill a sense of responsibility within the communities that reside near these esteros.

The event also featured a walk along the Estero de Paco, which emphasized the importance of that sense of responsibility. The 2.9-kilometer Estero de Paco was among Manila’s dirtiest waterways prior to its redevelopment when AFI’s “Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig” launched in 2009. Today, it stands as a reminder of the change that can be wrought by collaboration.

Featuring a regularly-cleaned estero and a linear park, the Estero de Paco highlights the work of surrounding communities and civil service organizations that have maintained a movement that started more than a decade ago. Although the rehabilitation projects like these have come a long way, the Learning Circle recognized that more initiatives and mitigation efforts are required to address marine pollution as a whole in Metro Manila and beyond.

Article by Clint Magada