In August 2016, I wrote about the need to protect the marine environment and the impact of not fully implementing the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol in 1978 (MARPOL). The Philippines ratified MARPOL and its Annexes I to V in 2000. I remember quite well how the Senate in conducting public hearings, prior to giving its concurrence to the proposed ratification, asked pertinent agencies i.e. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on why it took more than twenty years for them to work on the ratification of a very important maritime convention as was propounded by these agencies during the hearing.
17 years after ratifying MARPOL and its Annexes I to V, no law has been passed to implement its provisions, a necessary step for the Philippines to make good its commitment when it signed as a Party to the convention. Initiatives to get Congress to pass legislation to implement MARPOL were unsuccessful. Without attributing blame to any one agency, it may be more judicious to determine the reasons for the long drawn-out efforts.
MARPOL is considered one of the four pillars of maritime regulations together with the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the International Maritime Labor Convention (MLC).
As a concerned citizen of this country, I feel obliged to take the matter up again with no intention of giving up on this advocacy of making government and maritime stakeholders realize that environment protection from ship-generated wastes is a matter that needs urgent attention in this archipelago of ours.
I recognize the focus given to the protection, preservation and rehabilitation of the country’s terrestrial environment as the lush vegetation and thick forests seen in the mountains, plains and islands are wiped out either by the incessant destructive logging, mining and “kaingin” activities. This week the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced the closure of at least 21 mining companies after failing the agency’s audit, an effort which hopefully will find its parallel in preventing pollution from ships.
As before, bills dealing with the prevention of pollution from ships were filed at the 17th Congress, with at least two of such bills reflecting the same provisions as those filed in previous Congresses. It is mind-boggling that these bills which aim to implement MARPOL and with analogous texts have to undergo the same process every time, only to be passed over until the next Congress. But should Congress be made responsible for the impasse in enacting MARPOL legislation or have the pertinent agencies and stakeholders done enough to rally
support for the bills to get through the legislative process?
The requirements of MARPOL though providing a logical framework in preventing pollution from ships, could be complex; therefore, maritime agencies such as MARINA, PCG, PPA and port authorities together with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the DENR must take the lead in convincing Congress to enact a MARPOL law. These agencies should at least act as champions for the MARPOL law. After all, these are the agencies expected to be conferred specific roles in the implementation and enforcement of the law.
As we track the progress of the MARPOL bills in Congress, let us not forget every Filipino’s entitlement to the Constitutional guarantee of the right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.