On DOH’s statement of support for fossil fuel phase-out

At a press briefing on Tuesday, the Department of Health (DOH) expressed its support for the call made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health groups worldwide to phase out fossil fuels, citing its harmful effects on health and the environment. The statement was made after around 200 health organizations and more than 1,400 health professionals called for governments to establish a binding international treaty on phasing-out fossil fuels.
The DOH’s statement comes at a most opportune time with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling for an intervention to halt the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. However, the DOH’s call still falls short as it only lobbies for a “national plan against the minimal use of fuel in the country” – a watered-down version of the global treaty’s fossil fuel phase-out.
The existence of fossil fuel projects highlights the health disparity that communities exposed to such projects are subjected to. In a 2019 study of the health impacts of coal-fired power in the country, the number is disconcerting: an estimated 27,000 premature deaths attributed to fossil fuel air production in the Philippines.
As the main public health agency of the country, we view DOH’s statement as a critical turning point in exposing the evils of fossil fuels to the greater public who have long fallen victim to advertising ploys and misleading promises by corporate giants involved in the fossil fuel industry. DOH must put forward concrete curtailment of fossil fuels that have been globally established as a health hazard.
We also challenge the DOH to look into another health menace in the form of fossil gas, a fossil fuel that is mainly methane – a potent greenhouse gas. From extraction to processing, fossil gas involves hazardous substances including those that cause cancer, interfere with hormones, trigger asthma and contaminate the local environment through airborne pollution and wastewater. There is growing evidence linking reproductive and respiratory health impacts to communities living near gas wells. Currently, there are six gas-fired powered plants in the country, five of which are in Batangas, that put Filipinos at risk of adverse health impacts.
But the responsibility to protect communities from the harmful effects of fossil fuels is not on the DOH alone. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the main body tasked to implement the Philippine Clean Air Act, has failed to update our air quality guidelines based on the new WHO air quality guidelines and the latest science. We have been demanding this from the DENR for years, and have even resorted to the Supreme Court and are awaiting resolution. In partnership with coal-affected communities and other organizations, we at the Center for Ecology, Energy and Development are also conducting ambient air quality monitoring in different coal plant sites as the DENR has no monitoring systems in place and has failed to share relevant air monitoring data with stakeholders.
As the country grapples with the consequences of its continued fossil fuel dependence, we enjoin DOH to assist in expediting the country’s move to 100% renewable energy that is dependable, affordable, clean, and safe. 

Atty. Avril De Torres

Deputy Executive Director

Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development

Contact: Aryanne, +639176380993