Church leaders to DENR: uphold our people’s right to clean air

PHOTO: Today, Bishop Gerry Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, accompanied by clean energy and environmental advocates, met with DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to discuss the urgency of heightening the Department’s ambitions on the quality of air that Filipinos get to breathe.

Thirteen bishops from different dioceses across the Philippines on Tuesday sent a letter to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu urging the department to raise their ambitions in securing clean air for all Filipinos.

The letter was written following the eruption of Taal volcano, which brought with it the health panic that, the letter said, led to “a sense of solidarity towards the communities in our country who have long been suffering from toxic, polluted air.”

“Secretary Cimatu and the DENR rightfully displayed much concern for the victims of Taal Volcano’s eruption. We hope the same care could be extended to our brothers and sisters for whom breathing unclean air is a daily reality,” said Bishop Gerry Alminaza, Vice Chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice, and Peace.

“Pollution from coal and other dirty industries have further deepened the suffering of our country’s most vulnerable. These industries are able to do so only because existing standards on our air’s quality have allowed them,” he said.

The letter was personally handed by Bishop Alminaza to the DENR head in a closed-door meeting.

Civil society organizations supported the bishops’ concern, noting that placed side by side with volcanic ash, coal ash and other products of highly polluting industries are just as or even more detrimental to human health.

CEED Executive Director Gerry Arances asserted the DENR’s weighty responsibility in preventing polluting industries such as coal to stop releasing toxins into the air.

“The standards on air quality implemented in the Philippines is already among the lowest in the world, but even its implementation is a cause for worry,” said Arances. 

The group said, air quality standards employed by the DENR Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) are lower than those recommended by the World Health organization (WHO). The ambient air quality guideline value for PM 2.5 used by the EMB as of 2016, for example, is 75 micrograms per cubic meter for a 24-hour mean, whereas the WHO set it at 25 micrograms per cubic meter. As such, a report released by the WHO in 2018 showed that the Philippines had the third highest number of deaths in the world due to air pollution.

“It is questionable why the DENR has for so long relied on polluting companies themselves to monitor their emissions, without means to validate reports submitted to them. As such, how can the department perform its mandate of protecting the people and the environment from being harmed by these companies’ destructive activities?” Arances questioned.

“We have faith that Secretary Cimatu, a fellow believer of the Creator, will take the demands we laid down seriously and prioritize the review and implementation of the country’s air quality standards. It is air which sustains life; we hope the DENR will do its part in upholding human dignity by protecting it,” said Bishop Alminaza.