Environment laws gone to seed

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Filipinos generally take a bath every day and are very critical of those who don’t.

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Yet while they are very concerned about their personal hygiene, they see nothing wrong in degrading their environment. The clogged esteros, litter thrown willy-nilly, open dumps and smoke-belchers and other eyesores show that most Filipinos don’t really care about the environment.

The tragedy is that the Philippine legislature has produced two well-crafted laws, the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, that seek to cure these blights. Well, crafting an excellent law is one thing, implementing it is another. This the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should ponder deeply as it concludes a two-day seminar on cleaner air.

The Clean Air Act, authored by Sen. Loren Legarda, has stringent regulations that are virtually ignored and sanctions that are hardly implemented. To minimize the emission of toxic fumes on the streets, the law requires motor vehicles to pass first emission testing standards before they could be registered. It directs the impounding and fining of smoke belchers. A third offense is punishable by one-year suspension of motor vehicle registration and a fine of up to P6,000. Most enforcers must be blind for many smoke–belchers still ply the roads.

The law seeks to phase out seven-year-old buses but when regulators try to implement this, bus operators and drivers threaten to strike. The muscle of the bus operators and drivers is enough to cow the regulators who lack political will.

The law also bans incinerators. Hospitals that bought incinerators for millions of pesos lost money because of this. So how were they going to dispose of their medical, pathological and pharmaceutical waste without incineration? Well, don’t be surprised if medical wastes are being disposed of in dumps.

And don’t be surprised either that per monitoring by the Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR, total suspended particulates in Metro Manila between January and April 2015 were 130 micrograms per cubic meter, 40 micrograms above the international standards.

Oh yes, the DENR was already boasting that “130” is a big improvement over the previous years but I wasn’t impressed. My notes on a Senate hearing conducted by Sen. Pia Cayetano showed that in 2007, the total suspended particulates in Metro Manila were just 97.

The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001, also authored by Legarda, gave a five-year deadline for the closure of open dumps and for the implementation of waste segregation projects. According to Sen. Koko Pimentel, more than 1,000 local government units are still operating open and controlled dumps nationwide and are ignoring notices from the DENR.

And let’s hear the lament of Legarda, the most consistent champion of the environment in the Senate. Quoting DENR figures, she moaned that out of 178 local government units within the Manila Bay region, only 51 percent are compliant with segregation at source, 50 percent have functional materials recovery facilities and 30 percent have sanitary landfills.

I recall that in several budget debates, she had deplored non-implementation of these laws mainly for lack of the requisite funding. Once, the DENR didn’t even have any budget for the Clean Air Act while that for Solid Waste was only 2.0 percent of the funding required by law.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, another certified guardian of the environment, pointed out that the Clean Air Act had created an Air Quality Management Fund sourced from licensing fees and penalties from smoke–belchers. She questioned why the Department of Budget and Management hasn’t released the fund to the DENR so the department could buy better equipment and conduct testing more effectively.

I once had a talk with Sen. Edgardo Angara, a whiz not only on legal but also on fiscal matters, about the lack of funding for these two very significant laws.

Angara immediately put the blame on provisions in the laws that require local government units (LGUs) to put up counterpart funds for their implementation.

“Any financing scheme that will require LGUs to provide a matching fund will surely fail. Environment is very low on the priority list of LGUs,” he said.

Well, with the people themselves not caring much about their environment, it’s to be expected that local officials wouldn’t care about the implementation of environmental laws no matter how well-crafted they may be.

19espiloy47@gmail.com

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