T he Philippines takes pride in being one of many countries around the world that is an active party to international commitments for the environment -- be it for biodiversity, coastal and marine resources, or to combat the effects of global warming and climate change.
To step up its efforts in the enforcement of environmental laws, the Supreme Court has even designated 117 “environmental courts,” and lately, has promulgated the rules for the “Writ of Kalikasan,” the first of its kind in the world.
The country has several environmental laws in existence, consistent with the Constitutional principle of providing every Filipino the right to a balanced and healthful ecology. These include laws on forestry, land management, mining, solid waste management, clean water, and clean air.
Republic Act 8749, or the Clean Air Act of 1999, goes beyond “making the polluter pay.” It focuses primarily on pollution prevention rather than on control by encouraging cooperation and self-regulation among citizens and industries. It also enforces a system of accountability for adverse environmental impacts to heighten compliance to government environmental regulations.
Now on its 11th year of implementation, the Philippines can truly show indicative accomplishments in its effort to improve air quality not only in Metro Manila, but also in other premier cities nationwide. Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Director Juan Miguel Cuna credits these accomplishments to a successful partnership among implementers and stakeholders. “The collaboration of government agencies, the transport and industry sectors, and civil society has largely contributed to the improvement of the country’s air quality,” Cuna stressed.
The Clean Air Act is primarily implemented by the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Transportation and Communication (DOTC), Trade and Industry (DTI), Energy (DOE), and local government units.
The country’s geographical location and its being an archipelago keeps the country’s air generally “clean” as ocean winds keep pollution at bay, but not in highly-urbanized areas where air pollution is largely caused by vehicular and industry emissions.
Curbing air pollution
What, then, has the country done so far to improve air quality?
To curb air pollution from motor vehicles, the Clean Air Act requires smoke emission tests prior to renewal of registration. The DOTC’s Land Transportation Office (LTO) has already operationalized its motor vehicle inspection centers to large transport groups, while the private emission testing centers (PETCs) were established in various parts of the country to provide testing services to public transport vehicles, including private-owned vehicles.
Likewise, LGUs and partners from the private sector have been aggressive in initiating programs to combat air pollution caused by vehicular emissions. No less than five city governments in MM are involved in anti-smoke belching operations to make the 34-kilometer stretch of EDSA smoke-free! Even President Aquino himself has acted as an anti-smoke belching agent, demonstrating an initiative to report a smoke-belching bus to the LTO via text messaging.
Some cities have also promoted the use of alternative modes of transport, such as the bicycle for Marikina City and electricity-powered jeepneys for Makati City . Motorcycle manufacturers have also voluntarily phased out two-stroke engines since 2006 to give way to less-polluting model, the 4-stroke engines.
The DOE, on the other hand, has strengthened its drive to use cleaner fuel, reducing considerably the potentially harmful content in fuel, such as benzene in unleaded gasoline and sulfur in industrial diesel oil. It has also promoted the use of alternative, cleaner fuels such as biodiesel blends especially in government vehicles and public transportation.
As for industrial pollution, the Clean Air Act requires businesses to undergo compliance testing prior to operation of establishments. Many companies have also resorted to the use of alternative sources of energy that result in less emission.
The DOH reports that the use of cleaner fuels has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to disabilities and even death.
As yet another proof of cleaner air, Cuna announced that the EMB has monitored a nationwide 30% decrease in total suspended particulates ( TSP ) for a five-year period, from 2004 (145 micrograms/Normal cubic meter) to 2008 (102 ug/Ncm).
“This means there are less droplets from smoke and dust suspended in the air, but we will still be taking additional measures to further bring it down to healthier levels,” he said, referring to the acceptable standard value of 90 μg/Ncm.
These gains have not gone unnoticed in the global perspective. Perhaps the most significant indication of the success of the Philippines ’ policy implementation is the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which gauges how close countries are to establish environmental policy goals.
With an EPI score of 65.7 for the year 2010, the Philippines ranks 3rd in the ASE AN+3 economic region – next only to the much more progressive countries, Japan and Singapore, and ties Australia at 8 th in the whole Asia-Pacific area.
Still, the DENR continues to engage in collaborations to further strengthen the implementation of the Clean Air Act. Its link with the Partnership for Clean Air and Clean Air Initiative-Asia Center has led to the “Ligtas Hangin” campaign in 2009, and the forging of the Clean Air 10 Declaration by 300 stakeholders, which empowered LGUs to clean the air and address climate change through partnerships.
“Indeed, the past decade saw the numerous efforts of both the government and the private sector, including the civil society, to address the worsening air pollution in Metro Manila and other urban centers in the country. At the start of the effort, the problem seemed insurmountable as the level of pollution then was far way above the healthful guidelines of the World Health Organization,” DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said.
But since then, Paje said, the public-private sector partnerships took a full swing resulting in decline of the level of total suspended particulates (TSP) in Metro Manila’s sky at 134 ug/ncm last year. Despite this, however, Paje said there is still a need to bring down further the pollution level, setting the reduction target of at least 30% by the end of 2011.
P-Noy’s marching order: clean the air
“One of the marching orders of President Aquino for the DENR is to clean the air not only in Metro Manila but in all other urban centers in the country. This is understandable because if go by the report of the Department of Health that 60%-70% of medicines sold in the market are for bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, we could say that air pollution is already taking its toll on our people said,” Paje said.
Thus, Paje said the DENR is aiming for a reduction by 30% of pollution load by 2011. And since 80% of pollution load is contributed by mobile sources or vehicles, much of remedial measures will target motor vehicles through strengthened anti-smoke belching vehicles by local government units and strict implementation of emission test prior to registration by the Land Transportation Office.
On the part of DENR, it is bent on resolving at least 20% of 500 pollution cases, some of which involve air pollution, now pending with the agency’s Pollution Adjudication Board.
Such modest albeit significant successes are not a cause for the country to stop in its quest for cleaner air. Air pollution levels in the country are still unhealthy. This is shown in the number of Filipinos that have cardiovascular and respiratory diseases directly related to air pollution.
Every Filipino is a partner for clean air. The air quality principles embodied in the Clean Air Act says it all: “a clean and healthy environment is for the good of all and should therefore be a concern of all.”
® Public Affairs Office