The year 2009 marks the 10 th year of the implementation of Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.
Considered a landmark legislation on environment, the Clean Air Act paved the way for the country to put in place concrete measures to reduce emissions of air pollutions, especially in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized cities.
The Clean Air Act is definitely an very important piece of legislation consistent with the constitutional mandate to protect the environment, in this case the air we breathe, while guaranteeing the protection of the people’s right to live in harmony with nature.
And, for the last decade, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which is mandated to spearhead the implementation of the Clean Air Act, has continually made partnerships with other government agencies, local governments, transport and industry sectors as well as the civil society, to ensure that the law’s objective to reduce air emissions are realized.
After 10 years, what have we achieved?
* Based on the monitoring of the DENR, the overall air quality of the country is improving. A reduction of 29% in levels of Total Suspended Particulates (TSP) was achieved and this is partly due to the combined efforts of concerned sectors committed to improve the quality of air that we breathe.
* According to the Department of Health, there has been a significant improvement in blood lead levels among children in Metro Manila since 2000, when the Government started to use unleaded gasoline. In 2003, only 34.6% of study children were found exceeding the US-Center for Disease Control guideline value of 10µg/dl as compared to 90.3% in 2000.
* Improvement in fuel quality was implemented. The Department of Energy has undertaken the following:
o Phase-out of leaded gasoline in January 2001;
o Reduction of benzene and aromatics in unleaded gasoline (ULG) from 4% (by vol.) to 2% and 45% to 35% from Jan. 2000 to Jan. 2003, respectively;
o Reduction of sulfur content of automotive diesel oil ( ADO ) from 0.5% to 0.20% from 1999 to 2001 & further reduction to 0.05% in Jan.2004;
o Reduction of sulfur content of industrial diesel oil (IDO) to 0.30% in Jan.2001;
o Implementation of Memorandum Circular No. 55 requiring all government vehicles to use diesel fuel blended with 1% coco methyl ester starting July 2004;
o Use of 2% biodiesel blend (no more 100% conventional diesel) and availability of E10 effective February 2006 (Bio-Fuels Act).
* Efforts to curb air pollution from motor vehicles were intensified through the Land Transportation Office’s effort to operationalize four Motor Vehicle Inspection Stations (MVIS) under MVIS Phase I, which include: (1) LTO-East Avenue, (2) San Fernando, Pampanga; (3) Las Pinas City; and (4) Cebu City and issued directive to conduct emission testing prior to registration through private emission testing centers (PETCs) starting January 2003. The monitoring of these MVIS and other LTO Emission Testing Centers and PETCs is guided by the DENR-DOTC-DTI Joint Administrative Order in 2003 and this was further revised in December 2007.
* Other efforts to reduce air pollution from new motor vehicles and in-use motorcycles/tricycles are the adoption Euro 2 Type Approval Standards, more stringent emission standards since January 2008 and establishment of hydrocarbon emission standards since June 2003, respectively.
* Anti-smoke belching operations were likewise strengthened with the support of the Metro Manila Development Authority and local government operations. Several programs were also launched to increase participation in anti-smoke belching activities, namely, the SMOKE–FREE EDSA (October 2003) and the LINIS HANGIN PROGRAM (November 2004 up to present) by DENR.
* The use of alternative fuels was also promoted by concerned agencies and this led to:
* conversion of gasoline-fed taxis to liquid petroleum gas;
* introduction of new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses pursuant to Executive Order No. 290 [Natural Gas Vehicle Program for Public Transport (NGVPPT)] . To date, a total of 30 new CNG buses are plying the route of Batangas/Sta. Cruz-EDSA-Cubao & vice versa on a commercial scale.
* In mid-2006, motorcycle manufacturers voluntarily phased-out two-stroke motorcycle engines in support of the Clean Air Act.
* Efforts to abate air pollution from industrial sources and establishments were intensified through the accreditation of third party source emission testing firms to conduct compliance testing prior to operation. Likewise, major sources of air pollution were directed to install continuous emission monitoring systems to monitor their compliance to emission standards at all times.
What’s left to do?
Despite the winnings, however, there remains huge task to do to assure the people of improved air quality to breathe. The ambient air quality monitoring being conducted by the DENR indicates of improving air quality. But still the air pollution level is high and unhealthy especially among the vulnerable sectors like the young, the old and the sickly.
Based on information collected from national and local government agencies, through Clean Air InitiativeI-Asia Network in 2003, Manila ranks 7th among twelve (12) cities in the region with dirty air, in terms of total suspended particulates (TSP).
And in the face of global warming and climate change, more work needs to be done especially since air pollution and climate change are strongly linked to each other. Bringing the level of air pollution down to safe levels can cut on greenhouse gas emissions.
Local government units share the responsibility in managing air quality within their territorial jurisdiction. The local chief executives are members of the airshed governing boards. They also play key roles in carrying out the other provisions of the Clean Air Act.
Among other things, the DENR is urging all LGUs to:
* Strictly implement the ban on smoking inside public places
* Designate an Environment and Natural Resources Office in every province, city, municipality
* Implement air quality standards set by the Governing Board
* Prepare and develop, with the assistance from the Department, an action plan consistent with the Integrated Air Quality Framework to attain and maintain the ambient air quality standards within their respective airsheds
* Prepare and implement a program and other measures including relocation, whenever necessary, to protect health and welfare of residents in the area in during extreme air pollution events.
The steady brown haze that blankets major cities in the country is something that cannot be ignored. Now is the time to act and with increasing steps over time, we can fight air pollution and give next generations of Filipinos a cleaner and healthier future.