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A chance for the environment

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Amelia H. C. Ylagan-125

Corporate Watch

“No, it is not white sand that is being used to fill up the Manila Bay shoreline,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said when news photos flashed images of heavy machinery on the baywalk dumping what indeed looked like glistening white sand over the stony black murk of muddy sand.

“Citing information from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said crushed ‘dolomite boulders’ are actually being used in… the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program with an allocated budget, which began even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” newspapers reported on Friday (mb.com.ph Sept. 4).

“The Palace apparently found nothing wrong with the use of these materials for the Manila Bay,” the news report continued. But on the Monday immediately following the debut of “dolomite” in the lingua franca of the concerned Filipino, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, she who gives daily official updates on the raging COVID-19 pandemic, said crushed dolomite rocks may lead to “adverse” effects, mainly on the respiratory system, once inhaled. Dolomite particles could also cause eye irritation and gastro-intestinal discomfort such as stomach pain and diarrhea if ingested, she candidly said in a news briefing reported in The Philippine Star on Sept. 7.

Dr. Vergeire hedged her comment saying that the DENR “would not push through with the project if its study found that pulverized dolomite rocks would cause harm to the environment and the people” (Ibid.). Crushed dolomite rocks, which will be used to beautify the Manila Bay, are not toxic even though their physical properties may pose respiratory risks, the chief science research specialist of the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB)-Region 7 Chief Armando Malicse told Dobol B sa News TV. “It’s not because it is dolomite but it is because of the dust,” he said. The DENR, which oversees the MGB simply said that the P389-million project will not affect Manila Bay’s ecosystem (GMA News online, Sept. 7).

But Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia cried out that the mining of dolomite certainly harms the environment, particularly the small town of Alcoy, from where the 3,500 wet metric tons of crushed dolomite rocks have already been partially quarried for the P389-million aesthetic project on a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay’s shore. Garcia said the cease-and-desist order she issued against Dolomite Mining Corp. (DMC) and that of the Philippine Mining Services Corp. (PMSC) were to stop the shipment of the synthetic fine sand to Manila because these were not covered by the 25-year Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the government for the export of the dolomite to Japan and South Korea with specific years and volume of minerals to be extracted from Alcoy.

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Environmental and human rights groups vocally protested against the dolomite project of the DENR for the mining of natural resources and the damage to the ecosystem, especially since the quarries destroyed the cliffs and caves which were the natural habitat of endangered species. Gov. Garcia threatened to sue all those involved in the mining of dolomite rocks in Alcoy, saying she had issued a memorandum when she assumed office in August 2019 to stop all quarrying activities in the entire island of Cebu.

Health advocates are angry for the belittling of so-called dust pollution from powdered dolomite and the seeming dismissal of substance toxicity, particularly that respiratory weakness and eyes, nose, and throat afflictions been identified by epidemiologists as critical vulnerabilities to the present still-vicious COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippine Star of Sept. 7 cited a safety report of US cement company Lehigh Hanson in 2012 that inhaling dolomite dust may “cause discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing” and may even cause cancer. Another company from the US, Lhoist North America, said that dolomite “causes damage to lungs through prolonged or repeated exposure when inhaled.”

The common tao (person) is surely perplexed that the government has so thoughtlessly inflicted one more critical concern to add to the anxieties of the protracted coronavirus — when the only parting words now, in any virtual and/or limited socialization and communication, is “Stay Safe.”  And why insist on doing that P389-million Manila Bay beautification project when the money could be used for the health of the people — more medicines, research for a vaccine, testing and treatments, facilities, incentives for frontliners — or at least partially fund the P165.5-billion ($3.4 billion) emergency relief fund signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, Sept.

11? “Bayanihan II” will expand healthcare and help businesses after the coronavirus pandemic plunged the economy into a deep recession. BusinessWorld on Sept. 9 says the Philippines may see the worst (economic) slump in Asia. The question begging to be asked: Do we need any beautification project at this time?

The environment has already been slowly regaining its beauty in the forced slowdown of human activity in the quarantines and lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic. Pollution has dropped dramatically all over the world from the standstill of carbon-breathing factories and practically no land, air, and sea travel emissions. The European Space Agency (ESA), through satellite imaging, saw a 45-50% drop in nitrogen dioxide levels across Europe at the end of March, from 2019 levels (and that was only early in the lockdowns). In China, up to a 90% reduction of certain emissions during the city-lockdown period were identified from satellite and ground-based observation. Here in the Philippines, the skies are now dramatically an azure blue, from when only a gray cloud could be seen over Makati from the hills of Antipolo.

Now is the perfect chance to help our environment recover its glory, and for us humans to make amends for the damage we have done to Nature in our greedy pursuits for wealth and comfort. Note that the Philippines is a poor number-111 among 180 countries ranked in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy. The study shows a decline of the Philippine performance of 4.1% over 10 years

in metrics that gauge waste management, carbon dioxide emissions from land cover change, and black carbon emissions — all important drivers of climate change.

A decline in our EPI means our country has failed dismally in efforts to preserve and respect our environment. But we have some 50+ laws specifically on the environment, listed in the Chan Robles virtual law library. It seems the problem is in the implementation of these laws.

Why are our skies now blue, in time of the coronavirus, when there is now minimal traffic on the roads? Why were our skies gray before? We have Republic Act No. 8749, “The Clean Air Act of 1999,” which ensures that “the State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a   balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Smoke belching vehicles on the road, carbon emitting sea and air vehicles, and noxious factory exhausts were perhaps not strictly monitored and sanctioned.

Why do our own environment functionaries seem clueless (or in denial) as to the possible health hazards, the social costs, and degradation of natural resources in quarrying and mining our patrimony and future reserves? We have Executive Order No. 79 signed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on July 6, 2012: “Institutionalizing and implementing reforms in the Philippine mining sector providing policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources” that quotes the same Section 16, Article II of the 1987 Constitution as in the Clean Air Act.

If only those two environmental laws were adhered to, and strictly implemented, the Philippines would be happier and safer with Nature, and with its conscience.

Let’s give the environment a chance.

 

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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