With traffic in Metro Manila expected to worsen because of the start of at least 15 infrastructure projects within the next few months, concerns of worsening air pollution should not be ignored.
Even the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) believes that the enforcement of the Clean Air Act must be done effectively, and even welcomed a file against them for that purpose.
On Monday, the DENR welcomed the petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan on road sharing, saying that it is “a golden opportunity to further improve the effective implementation of the Clean Air Act.”
“The petition is a welcomed challenge for the government because if it succeeds, it will surely help boost the ongoing concerted effort to improve the quality of the air we breathe,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.
Despite being named as one of the respondents in the petition file before the Supreme Court, Paje said the DENR was even grateful for the petitioners led by award-winning environmentalist lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr. for “potentially opening a new chapter in Philippine environmentalism.”
“Rest assured that whatever the outcome of the petition, the DENR will continue to strive to attain the best air quality achievable with the help of all the stakeholders, including the petitioners,” Paje said.
In their petition, clean air advocates asked the High Tribunal to issue a writ that would compel the government to set up and implement a road-sharing scheme for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians in a bid to reduce traffic and air pollution from motor vehicles.
The petitioners want the government to devote half of all roads to an organized, collective, clean and affordable transportation system, and the other half for covered sidewalks, all-weather bike lanes and urban gardens.
Paje said that should the High Tribunal grant the petition and issue a writ, such will “in no uncertain terms inject new vigor into the DENR’s implementation of policies that bear directly on the people’s right to breathe clean air.”
Concerted efforts in place
The environment chief earlier said that the Philippines’ efforts to combat air pollution has improved from various steps initiated by the government and in its partners, but admitted that there is still much to be done to achieve a cleaner and healthier air.
Full and effective implementation of the country’s 14-year-old clean air law is the key to further improve the quality of the air we breathe, he said.
Paje said that despite a decline in the past 10 years, pollution levels have remained above the accepted healthy standards, thus he called on the public to support government programs to reduce air pollution.
Air quality data from the department’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) indicate that the level of total suspended particulate (TSP) in Metro Manila in 2004 reached 171 micrograms per normal cubic meter (ug/Ncm). Then it went down to 129 ug/Ncm in 2009, then up again to 150 in 2010. Last year, TSP level went further down at 118 ug/Ncm.
It is uncertain on how much the TSP level in Metro Manila will go up once all the 15 infrastructure projects in the metropolis are in full swing and cause massive traffic jams. Paje stressed that the government has set several plans in motion to help meet the standards and regulations set by Republic Act 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.
One of the programs he mentioned was the use of vehicles consuming clean and alternative fuel.
He said there were also attempts to reduce the volume of vehicles on the road like the establishment of provincial bus terminals outside Metro Manila.
The EMB has also installed additional fully automated monitoring stations to measure the air pollution level at strategic points around the metropolis, he said. Paje also commended local government units for stepping up efforts at enforcing the provisions of RA 8749 in their respective jurisdictions.
Along with the EMB and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, cities and municipalities in the National Capital Region have formed composite units conducting roadside apprehensions of suspected smoke-belchers.
As part of the initiative to regulate emissions of motor vehicles, the Land Transportation Office has established motor vehicle inspection centers to assess large transportation groups and authorized the needed registration where it is applicable.