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Editorial

Double blow

/ 05:12 AM March 10, 2019

Two separate reports on pollution that came out recently brought to light problems that continue to plague the country’s environment, despite laws that are meant to address them.

One report was more surprising than the other, and no one was more shocked than Filipinos to hear that a foreign study had ranked several Philippine cities as having the cleanest air in Southeast Asia.

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It sounded too good to be true, but there it was: According to the Switzerland-based IQ AirVisual World Air Quality Report 2018, Calamba, Laguna ranked No. 1, with Valenzuela coming in second.

Several other cities made it to the top 15: Carmona, Cavite (3rd), Parañaque City (5th), Davao City (6th), Makati City (7th), Manila (8th), Mandaluyong City (9th), Balanga, Bataan (12th), Quezon City (13th) and Las Piñas (15th).

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Among countries, the Philippines ranked 48th out of the 73 included in the study.

Many who live in these cities were surprised, as their daily anecdotal experience did not seem to match the study’s assertions. The dense, car-choked urban centers of Makati, Manila and Mandaluyong as having some of the cleanest air in this part of the world? Really?

Greenpeace Philippines would eventually clear the air, so to speak, by explaining that the results were flawed, because there was a shortage of systems that monitor the air and could provide more accurate readings.

Among countries in the region, in fact, the Philippines has the least number of recording devices to measure air pollution. Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Khevin Yu lamented: “The report therefore represents only a small fraction of the air pollution situation in the country.”

A more pertinent study to consider may be the World Health Organization’s report last year that the Philippines had the third highest number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution in the Western Pacific region.

The WHO said 45.3 out of every 100,000 Filipinos die due to the dire state of the country’s air. Only China (81.5 per 100,000) and Mongolia (48.8 per 100,000) had more deaths caused by outdoor air pollution.

How about deaths due to indoor air pollution? The WHO said the Philippines had the second highest death rate in the Asia-Pacific region due to the use of kerosene and wood stoves in home kitchens. Add to that the fact that the recorded average of PM2.5 concentration is more than twice the acceptable level.

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There is a law that mandates clean air, but obviously it’s not working. Republic Act No. 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, was to serve as the vanguard of efforts to improve the air quality in the country, including raising awareness about and clamping down on pollution from sources such as coal-fired plants and factories.

But improving air quality requires more than information drives and regulatory efforts, it also requires a change in the culture.

Last year, WHO director for public health Maria Neira said: “You should promote a cleaner public transport system, which is reliable and affordable for citizens, and discourage the use of private cars.”

Local government units (LGUs) were also urged to get in on the action to reduce emissions on the ground.

As it happens, dirty air isn’t the only pressing pollution issue the Philippines needs to address. There’s also its enormous plastic problem.

Unlike the air quality report, the warning last week by the Environmental group Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia) hardly took anyone by surprise.

Filipinos, according to Gaia, are throwing way over 163 million plastic sachets daily, along with 48 million plastic shopping bags, 45 million thin-film bags, and 3 million diapers. Yes, every day. Gaia said that if this continued, the country would be knee-deep in plastic waste in a year.

The Philippines has a law that specifically addresses this issue: RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, which tasks LGUs to compel companies to ban plastics or to regulate their use. The government has already required shopping malls to ban the use of plastics, including plastic straws, in day-to-day commerce. But it should put pressure as well on manufacturers to use more environment-friendly and sustainable packaging for their products, instead of singling out consumers, especially the poor, who are forced to buy by “tingi” or in smaller plastic sachets simply because that is all they can afford.

The application of both the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Management Act has been spotty, to say the least. And because of that, Filipinos are being dealt a double blow: suffocated by dirty air on one hand, and swamped by a tsunami of plastic waste on the other.

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TAGS: Air pollution, cities with cleanest air, Inquirer editorial, plastics pollution
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