WHAT’s with the recent hullabaloo in the transport sector against the Clean Air Act? Who doesn’t want clean air epecially in the ill-stricken atmosphere of Manila?

The Clean Air Act (Republic Act 8749) stirred not only the public that has been clamoring for its over due implementation, but also the ever-confused legislature that passed this bill. On the one hand, the implementation of the law has been stalled since the start. On the other, the transport sector, which is responsible for 70% of the accumulated air pollution index, is opposed to the act.

But with the act going into full swing starting January 1 this year, the Varsitarian uncovers some of the factors that deferred the implementation of the law and the health and environmental hazards that continue to worsen as the law remains unenforced.

Air quality

The Clean Air Act emphasized removal of smoke emissions from vehicles. The law is expected to remove 56 billion pounds of pollution each year, which will significantly reduce lung diseases, cancer, and other serious health problems. The quality of the air we breathe has a great impact on lung health. Fragile lung tissue is easily damaged by pollutants in the air, resulting in increased risk of asthma and allergies, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

According to data released during the clean air convention at the World Trade Center in Manila last November 30, the ratio of motor vehicles to people is 23 persons to a vehicle here in the Philippines. With millions of these vehicles burning more than 99% fossil-based fuel or petroleum fuel, Filipinos are literally breathing hazardous air pollutants, especially those of living in large urban cities where the bulk of trucks, buses, automobiles, and jeepneys (not to mention large factories and machinery) are concentrated.

Air pollution due to the heavy concentration of motor vehicles and industries in Metro Manila is a major environmental problem. Of the more than 3.8 million registered vehicles in the country in 2001, roughly 40% are in Metro Manila. Almost a third of the total registrations (about a million) are diesel-powered.

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Present levels of air pollutants in Metro Manila from mobile sources are estimated at 116,000 tons of particulate matter of less than 10 microns (PM10), 39,000 tons of sulfur oxide (SOx), 140 tons of lead – as well as undetermined amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), hydro-carbons (HC), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOC), according to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) 1998 study entitled “Report on Metro Manila Air Quality Improvement Sector Development Program” and cited by SwissContact in its recent pre-feasibility study.

Emission testing

Public vehicles are required to undergo emission testing at various testing centers all over Metro Manila. There are more than 70 accredited testing centers in Manila alone.

When motorists enter the test facility, they hand the inspector the registration renewal notice. The inspector inputs essential information into a computer that automatically selects the proper test-type and standards for the vehicle’s weight and model year. Most model year 1996 and later vehicles equipped with On Board Diagnostic II (OBDII) computer systems are tested by means of a computer “health-check”. This check consists of plugging into the vehicle’s computer and downloading emission system information. Tail-pipe emissions are measured on other vehicles while the vehicle is driven on a treadmill-like device called a dynamometer. The vehicle is operated over a driving cycle that simulates typical city driving and includes periods of acceleration, cruise and deceleration. After the OBD check or emission test, the vehicle’s gas cap is tested to ensure that it seals properly.

If a vehicle fails any portion of the test, the owner must perform repairs and/or replace the gas cap for retesting. Satisfactory completion of the test requirements is necessary before vehicle registration can be renewed. The inspector gives all motorists an informational brochure at the time of the initial test to explain the repair and retesting process.

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Transport sectors’ claim

According to Alberto Suansing, president of Transport Organizations are for Clean Air (TOCA) the major misconception on the Clean Air Act (CAA) for transport sectors is that it was passed to put them out of business.

“Fuel is already in its standard, we only upgrade it,” said Jojie Manalastas, president of Partnership for Clean Air, a local NGO working to improve air quality in the metropolis. According to the reports in the forum, the country receives substandard quality of fuel that causes engines to break down and emit bad smoke in as short as three years for brand new vehicles. When this happens, owners will then have to get their engines fixed or overhauled, resulting in tremendous expenses because spare parts sold in the country are marked very high. If they opt to buy second-hand parts, they risk having to emit pollutants. Another problem is going to government accredited testing centers for emission standards. For the trucking sector, there is no clear emission standard for each area in the Metro.

“Pwedeng sa San Juan pasado ka pero pagdating mo ng Mandaluyong magugulat ka na lang dahil hindi ka na raw naka-comply,” he said.

Vehicle emission standards vary from light vehicles, light commercial vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles. Different government bureaus such as Land Transportation Office, Metro Manila Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation and Communication are the primary implementing bodies coordinating with the local government units in the metro.

Knowing that defective engines would mean spending for its repair and maintenance, majority of the transport groups admitted that they would rather not have their vehicles checked. “Parang tao yan eh, ayaw niyang malaman na may sakit siya kasi mas malaking problema pa yan eh.”

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Majority of the transport sectors admitted that they do not care about the health hazards of pollution. For them, they are in it for profit, not for public concern. But Transport Organizations are for Clean Air said that the government cannot do it alone. Since they are all in the industry, they immediately become co-implementors of the policy. Public transportation is not merely a business or industry, it is vested with public interest which is why transport operators are required to secure franchises from the government.

One step at a time

The clear intent of the Clean Air Act is to bring the citizenry into a national cooperative and self-regulatory effort to clean the air we breathe and to ensure that our children will continue to enjoy the same. The measures to be adopted are meant to be preventive rather than corrective, with everyone voluntarily cooperating with the government rather than the government coercing the citizenry. Now that the law is in effect for a trial period of three months, it will be seen whether cooperative care for the environment can be successful.

*The author was the head documentor during the Transport Groups’ Convention on Clean Air Act at the SEAMEO Innotech in Quezon City sponsored by Swisscontact, an NGO funded by the Swiss government. The output of the convention, presented to the government at the World Trade Center in Pasay, was the basis for the amendments made to RA 8749 and now being followed for its implementation per se started January this year.

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