Ten years ago, five million Filipinos petitioned their government to pass a landmark piece of legislation known as Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999. The law established ambient air quality guidelines and emissions standards, banned smoking in public buildings, and mandated that all motor vehicles undergo emissions testing once a year. The law also paved the way for the elimination of leaded gasoline. But budget constraints and legal issues restrict the full implementation of the Clean Air Act, and the law is still silent on other health hazards like the aerial spraying of pesticides in the agricultural sector. Now the Philippine air quality community has gathered together once again to examine what can be done about this.
“We need to look at things optimistically,” says Vicky Segovia, Country Coordinator for the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA), an umbrella organization of different Philippine government agencies, NGOs, commercial firms, and private individuals. “We have to rejoice that in this country, where laws can be difficult to pass, we actually have a law to review than nothing at all.”
For this reason, the CAI-Asia Center and the PCA helped organize a two-day conference in 23-24 June 2009 at the Riverbend Hotel in Marikina, a city known for its bikeways and environmental programs. The “Clean Air 10 Celebration” was made possible by the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Dept. of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the Dept. of Education (DepEd), the Dept. of Interior and Local Govt. (DILG), and other agencies, NGOs and private sector firms like the Ayala Foundation and Pacific Paints (Boysen).
Marikina City Mayor Marides Fernando
Over 290 people attended, many representing government agencies, cities, local government units (LGUs), academe, and civil society groups. The theme of the conference, “Empowering LGUs to Clean the Air and Address Climate Change through Partnerships,” emphasized the importance of local action to make the law work better. The occasion was also used by the Energy and Clean Air Project (ECAP) of USAID to formally turn over its Air Quality Management Toolkit to LGUs, and by the CAI-Asia Center to officially announce the Ligtas Hangin (“save the air”) campaign.
In the afternoon, participants divided themselves into five breakout groups: Technology, Policy Formulation and Implementation, Awareness Raising and Networking, Capacity Building, and Fundraising. Their views will help in the drafting of the Clean Air 10 Declaration, a ten-point action statement of attainable goals that different sectors can work toward. “There was a conscious effort not to interfere with the outcome of the breakout groups,” says CAI-Asia’s May Ajero, who also headed the Clean Air 10 program committee. “We wanted to represent only what was discussed and agreed upon.”
Organizing the Clean Air 10 Celebration was not without challenges. The weather had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse. Thunderstorms brought heavy rains throughout Metro Manila on the first day. The Marikina River overflowed, flooding streets near the hotel by mid-afternoon. Rainwater leaked into the second floor of the hotel function hall; the Secretariat area was not spared. Frequent power outtages and equipment malfunctions also made it difficult for speakers. “But despite this,” May says, “people stayed on to listen and discuss results of the breakout sessions.”
Glynda Bathan, Policy and Partnership Manager of the CAI-Asia Center, agrees. “The conference was truly a ‘partnership’ effort. Many agencies, organizations, and individuals pitched in with time, funds, or both to make it successful. This strong community spirit is what we can count on to clean the air!”
A 16-member editorial committee worked until 10pm that evening to synthesize the discussions and draft the Clean Air 10 Declaration, which was further reviewed then signed by participants the following day to symbolize their renewed action to improve air quality in the country. A follow up National Clean Air Summit is being planned in November 2009 to coincide with Clean Air Month.
You can read the full text of the declaration or through http://www.ligtashangin.blogspot.com
If you would like to know more about the Clean Air 10 Celebration, or would like to become a member of the Partnership for Clean Air, please contact Ms. Vicky Segovia ([email protected]).