Da-ub, the practice gathering and burning fallen leaves and other plant refuse, is a traditional daily chore in the Philippines. But the fact that a practice is traditional is not in itself a sufficient reason to continue it. Rather, the pros and cons of continuing vs. abandoning the practice must be weighed, and if change is deemed necessary, we must have the courage to undertake it.
In the “pros” column, there appear to be several reasons for the practice of da-ub. The smoke repels mosquitoes, if only temporarily. It also helps to control the bugs which attack fruit trees. Further, it is said to encourage trees to bear fruit. Finally, it is an easy and convenient way to get rid of sagbot (leaves, twigs and grass).
But there are alternative, greener ways of controlling mosquitoes and tree-pests; there are other ways to induce fruit trees to bear; organic materials can and should be composted; and if garbage collection is not efficient, that issue can and should be addressed.
There are many costs, many “cons.” Firstly, your right to extend your fist ends where my nose begins: the smoke from these fires can permeate entire neighborhoods for hours, and the constant presence of such smoke can aggravate, and even cause respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and allergies.
Smoke is also known to be carcinogenic (cancer- causing). These effects are multiplied when household trash is burned in combination with sagbot, which adds foul odor and extreme toxicity into the mix. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to the ill effects of such pollutants.
I understand that this is an age-old tradition, but many things used to be traditional: slavery and human sacrifice come to mind. Furthermore, we did not always live in such close quarters here in the Philippines, and our ancestors were not exposed to as many toxins as we are, from our food, auto emissions and household products.
Changing conditions call for a re-evaluation of traditional practices, especially this one. This is a very serious quality of life issue, which is why laws have been passed to prohibit the practice.
Unfortunately, these laws do not appear to be enforced here in Dumaguete. As a public health advocate (and who among us is against public health?), I’m appalled by the lack of enforcement of this law. The Department of Health should get involved in campaign to discourage da-ub.
The City Fire Department should be involved as well, since it poses a fire hazard, especially when the fire is not attended and has combustible materials in it. The deleterious impact on peoples’ health presumably results in increased costs to the government for medical care, money that is all too scarce, and could be put to far better use.
To any of our dedicated public servants reading this article who agree and understand the seriousness of this issue, I will be very happy to assist them in developing an effective campaign to eradicate this practice. After all, “a healthy Filipino, is a wealthy one.” Don’t we all want a healthy and a happy community?
(Virginia Maja-Stack joins the MetroPost as a regular columnist. She has a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, specializing in Public Health from New York University. For the last 10 years, Virginia was the chief administrator of Home Care Services in a prestigious community in New York City, called the Henry Street Settlement.)