Environmental group wants to make Metro safe for fireflies
FOR THE FIREFLY BRIGADE, THERE is hope that the smog-choked air of Edsa can be cleaned up and Filipinos can be weaned from their dependence on motorized vehicles.
This group of campaigners for the environment believes that the most effective way to clean up the air in the metropolis is by making bicycles the primary mode of transportation.
“It’s a paradox,” Firefly Brigade incorporator and former president Joaquin “Jack” Yabut admitted. “The air is polluted so why should you ride on a bike? But that is precisely why we should ride on bikes, because there is pollution.”
“We (bicycle riders) are a drop in the bucket but the bucket will not be filled without a drop. It is really a choice you make,” said Yabut.
When they were setting up the Firefly Brigade, Yabut said they found fireflies a good symbol for their cause. “Fireflies thrive when the environment is clean and when the water is clean. Once there is pollution, the fireflies are the first to disappear. There are hardly fireflies now in Metro Manila. We want the fireflies to come back,” he pointed out.
He said that it was Kathy Sta. Ana, a visual artist and teacher, who came up with the idea of advancing environmental protection by promoting the use of bicycles. In 1999, friends helped her organize the first “Tour of the Fireflies” and eventually, the brigade was born.
With 11 other people, including Yabut, the Firefly Brigade was registered as a nonstock, nonprofit organization with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Starting with the annual fireflies tour, the brigade now has other projects: The Recycle a Bicycle (RAB) and Kitang-Kita ang Bisikleta (KKB), among others.
“Under the RAB, we accept donations of money or bicycle parts and then we assemble or recondition bicycles and donate them to (poor but) worthy users,” Yabut said as he added with a laugh, “We are practically the equivalent of Gawad Kalinga, but on a smaller scale.”
But he lamented that owners of bicycles usually do not want to get rid of their old ones. “Often, the bicycle parts we receive are no longer usable and are just junk because they are rusty,” he said.
On the other hand, the KKB project focuses on safety awareness among bicycle riders. “We try to mobilize resources so we can provide safety equipment, vests, lights and helmets to others,” Yabut said.
Recently, the brigade conducted bike clinics at the Eastwood City in Libis, Quezon City, the first commercial center to set up bicycle lanes and bicycle racks for riders and enthusiasts.
The clinics provided basic training on how to survive Metro Manila’s traffic and carbon monoxide through “efficient cycling.” It also identified the different routes bike users can safely use.
“It is not exactly smart to bike along a major thoroughfare during rush hour. You would only get everything from dust to carbon monoxide. It is more pleasant, less polluted if you take alternate bike routes. You do not always have to pass through Edsa unless you are in a hurry, with a prayer and hopefully with a gas mask,” Yabut said.
The main goal of the clinic, he added, was to teach “basic and practical skills in bicycle riding so people will discover and appreciate the joy of cycling and realize it is more efficient and safe. We teach that cycling can be as effortless as walking.”
According to him, that the clinic was more of an experiment to encourage malls and property developers to become “bicycle-friendly” since these were areas frequented by people.
“So it is important for the malls to become bicycle-friendly. If they have ‘green’ practices, they might as well do it all the way,” he said.
Yabut, the theater center director of the Philippine Educational Theater Association, teaches by example. Thrice a week, he bikes from Marikina City to E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, a 15-kilometer trip that takes him 45 minutes.
“I save P100 a day doing this. I try to ride a bicycle three times a week. So I save at least P300 a week,” he said.
Yabut urged local governments to follow the example of Marikina City which established a bikeways office and was close to completing its bike lanes project.
“We have to change the mind set of our traffic and transportation planners by incorporating mass transportation and nonmotorized vehicles,” he said as he bewailed the attitude of people who believe that bicycles are a primitive means of transportation meant only for underdeveloped countries.
Yabut pointed out that several countries in Europe, North America and South America were encouraging the use of bicycles to reduce pollution.
The proliferation of motorcycles, however, has set back the campaign to promote bicycles, he said. Although some new engines were more efficient and caused less pollution, the fact remained that motorcycles were adding to the congestion in thoroughfares, he added.
“The cheaper prices of motorcycles have increased the sales of this form of transport. But it is not the environment that benefits but the automotive industry,” Yabut said.
But he remains hopeful that if people were to turn to bicycles, the air in Metro Manila would gradually improve and perhaps, in time, the fireflies would return to the metropolis.