A Review of the Clean Air Act or How the Air Was Not Cleaned

Manila Bulletin, December 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Review of the Clean Air Act or How the Air Was Not Cleaned


Byline: HEHERSON T. ALVAREZ

DECEMBER as Human Rights Month focuses on every citizens right to life, which unfortunately is jeopardized by unmitigated air pollution and major disasters brought about by environmental destruction.

This New Years Eve, unless the government dissuades millions of Filipinos who will traditionally ignite firecrackers; scientifically classed as "low explosives," that cause great risks of death, injuries, and shock to infants, children, pregnant women, asthmatics, and senior citizens, the Filipino will once more learn the harsh reality of what our environment is facing.

The massive firecracker explosions produce the same deadly gases and toxic particulate matter (PM) that are emitted by internal combustion engines of diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles.

The smoke and fumes that blanket our cities will cause irritation, watering of the eyes, as well as laryngitis and other throat infections. One night of reckless revelry in celebration of the new year has a costly price: A 10% increase in sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide which are major components causing air pollution.

As a legislator, I have fervently urged local governments to enact ordinances that would ban if not restrict fireworks to town and church plazas under the supervision of fire and explosives experts in order to mitigate the danger to life and limb as well as reduce air pollution.

At least three cities Baguio, Davao and Zamboanga have helped reduce uncontrolled firecracker explosions by banning its sale, distribution and use. Metro Manila Mayors of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela and Makati have started limited fireworks zones. However, these encouraging signs of good environmental governance still have to be proliferated throughout the country.

The impending problem can only be addressed by the same political will that has been demonstrated by Pres. Gloria MacapagalArroyo in pursuit of illegal loggers and forest poachers who have caused so much loss of lives and homes, livelihoods and crops, as well as infrastructure.

Tuberculosis and other ailments caused by air pollution kill 68 persons daily and affect 22 million of our more than 80 million population. In fact, each of us spend about R2,000.00 yearly to treat air pollution-related illnesses, the World Banks Philippine Environment Monitor 2002 on Air Quality reported.

Worsening air pollution, according to the Department of Health (DOH), has caused more than 10,000 excess cases of acute bronchitis, almost 300 excess cases of asthma, and nine excess cases of chronic bronchitis from 2002 to 2003 alone.

These studies show that air in Metro Manila is no longer safe.

Air pollution is not just unsafe but detrimental to our physical, mental and economic well-being. It not only destroys the environment but reduces the lifespan of human beings. It threatens the very existence of man.

In 1993, the Philippine Senate, through the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources which I chaired, moved to clean our fuel, which was a major source of air pollution, by successfully persuading the three major oil companies in the country to reduce lead content in gasoline through the signing of the "Healthy Air Pact."

At the Senate, I filed the first of several bills to clean the air. Several Congresses and revisions later, Republic Act 8749, otherwise known as the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, was passed into law.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) immediately approved loans totaling nearly US$700 million to fund the Act.

But five years after the passage of the Clean Air Act, studies reveal that the air in Metro Manila continues to deteriorate!

In June 2003, ADB Southeast Asia Infrastructure Division Director Patrick Giraud was quoted as saying that "the manner by which the Philippines Clean Air Act is being implemented at present fails to encourage entrepreneurs to engage in profitable transport undertakings that do not involve environmental deterioration. …

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