Starting this year, the Quezon City (QC) government will implement its new, fast-tracked ordinance obliging households to pay an annual garbage fee ranging from P100 to P500. This garbage fee is based not on garbage volume, not even residual wastes or even unsegregated wastes, but on residential land area. It is to be paid on top of real estate taxes and other existing taxes collected by the government.

To justify this, QC or any local government unit may assert that it is within its powers to levy fees on its own residents. But clearly, those powers are limited by the principle of fairness. In addition, waste management can be approached differently and more effectively, without imposing additional fees.

Probably I was not the only who got dismayed and flustered when supporters of the QC ordinance complained about huge garbage management expenditures amounting to P1.1billion yearly (which they emphasized as the largest item on the city government’s budget). Yet at the same time they initially told everyone that funds to be generated would be used for tree planting activities, procuring another landfill, investing in new solid waste management technologies, or for disaster and risk management programs. Or probably for anything that will make the fees more “appealing.”

This time, is QC levying a garbage collection fee so residents would shoulder a portion of its huge waste management costs? Or to get more funds for a still-unclear-yet-environmentally-related purpose? Either way it is imposing additional fees from people who already pay taxes and naturally expect those services to be done.

Quezon City has consistently been among the top cities with highest Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) because of its land area and population, but unlike many local government units which depend largely on national government, QC’s income is mainly derived from locally generated sources.

Last 2012 the QC government was able to collect Php13.69 billion in gross revenues and approximately PhP2 billion to PhP3 billion for its IRA. Part of the revenue collections is Php5.12B in business taxes and Php626 million in real property taxes.

The garbage fee really seems like just an increase in real estate tax or fixed taxes renamed or coated as a garbage fee because you have no choice but to pay it, whether or not garbage is collected from your doorstep.

The QC takes pride in its high earnings yet has to show it knows its basic responsibilities and not only its powers to impose fees. Where does all the money go such that they need to earn more? The people are not really informed where their money goes yet QC wants to levy a redundant and burdensome fee ?

Why doesn’t QC show where the money they collect goes before imposing any new fees? Remember the 2011 increase in property taxes, which QC boasted would provide housing to squatters? That was two years ago and people haven’t really seen the promised service delivered.
On the next level, a possible implication of QC’s huge garbage collection cost is not to push for bigger fund generation to cover it, but rather to minimize this cost by implementing a more efficient waste management system.

If waste reduction and segregation is not well- implemented, on top of the increase in garbage volume due to increasing population, garbage collection and dumpsite management costs are really expected to be high.
Will the garbage fee encourage waste reduction and segregation, and prevent another Payatas dumpsite tragedy? The answer is no. Because they are paying QC to get rid of their trash, and the fees are based on the size of their lots rather than the amount or type of garbage they throw, the residents have no incentive to reduce or even segregate their trash. The “garbage” fee, though considered “minimal” by the QC government, will be collected even if you do not throw out any trash and are a QC resident. And you cannot even reduce the amount of the fee unless you cut the area of the lot you live on.

Furthermore, environmental groups challenge the legality of this ordinance since the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act provides that city or municipal governments take care only of the “residual wastes.”

If the QC government is sincere about its objective to efficiently manage waste, other options which do not resort to unnecessary levies are available. In fact, three barangays in Quezon City were awarded for their best practices, which mostly include innovations on how to turn garbage into another form or extract from them some useful substances (example: converted to electricity, used for creating cement or ceramics, made into fertilizers or compost). These innovations are not only environmentally beneficial but favorable to cost minimization (and revenue generation) as well.

Aloria is a researcher of Action for Economic Reforms.