"The coast is clear - in Bataan."
When used disposable baby diapers started washing up on the 177-kilometer coastline of Bataan, residents knew they have a serious problem in their hands.
Metro Manila's garbage had found its way into the province's once-pristine shores. This created health risks to coastal communities and contributed to the occurrence of red tide, endangering the livelihood of more than one third of the province's population. A total of 193,943 fisherfolk and 17,525 households derive their living from the sea.
"Bataan is situated in a way that we became the sea-based dumping area of Metro Manila," says Governor Leonardo B. Roman. "When we see things like Pampers floating on the surface, we knew these were no longer our trash. People in the area don't use disposables."
Latest data show the province had accumulated around 300 metric tons of solid waste along the coast, equivalent to a volume of 0.5 kilograms per person.
While some groups had already attempted to do something about the situation, efforts ended up disjointed and in vain. There was no support from the provincial government or the agencies. Without anyone leading the way, residents turned indifferent to the mess.
Community-based organizations, however, were undaunted. They formed partnerships with government and private companies to create an integrated coastline rescue operation.
The result was the program "Kontra Kalat sa Dagat" which Petron Foundation, the social responsibility arm of Petron Corporation, helped initiate.
Enthusiasm for the clean-up drive was contagious. Several volunteers turned up and worked together to rid the coast of trash.
"We even used a jeepney to fish out a sofa that has been in the coastline for years," says the governor who was among those who launched the program.
The first Kontra Kalat sa Dagat clean-up on April 15, 2000 was followed by many more, spearheaded by various organizations. The program drew popular support among residents that organizers had to limit the number of volunteers to 5,000 a month.
To make the program sustainable, the provincial government did not even have to issue an ordinance. It was the Bataan business community that recognized the need to create a long-term coastal resources management program.
The private sector founded the Bataan Coastal Care Foundation, Inc. to run a long-term program called the Bigay Galing sa Kalikasan ng Bataan (BIGKIS-BATAAN), which counts 18 companies and the provincial government as members. The movement has received support from the United Nations Development Programme-International Maritime Organization (UNDP-IMO).