The Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 was signed into law by former President Joseph Estrada in July 27, 1999. Republic Act 8749 is an act providing for a comprehensive air pollution control policy and for other purposes was landmark legislation in Philippine environmental protection. The law has 56 Sections and divided into 7 chapters namely, General Provisions; Air Quality Management System; Fuels, Additives, Substances and Pollutants; Institutional Mechanism; Actions; Fines and Penalties; and Final Provisions.
The principle behind the creation of the law is where the state recognizes its responsibility in protecting the rights of people in living in a balanced ecology where the quality of air is adequate. The state also acknowledges that social-justice is primary concern when this principal right is violated by developing mechanisms for preventing, managing, restricting, and penalizing air pollution. Importantly, the recognition of these rights were stipulated in Section 4 which the state shall seek to guarantee the following enjoyment of these rights. The right to breathe clean air is one of those rights. The fact that breathing clean air has to be a fundamental right tells us that the society we have built has undermined the importance of ecological balance in living a sustainable life. It is frowning that reality has to be as grim as the laws that are written to promote quality of life.
Technical definitions of scientific concepts in environmental science were included in the legislation as operative terms used in the act. One of the terms that is important to note for future environmental planners is on Chapter 1, Article 2, Section 5, Item g). Eco-profile – means the geographical –based instrument for planners and decision-makers which present an evaluation of the environmental quality and carrying capacity of an area. It is the result of the integration of primary and secondary data and information on natural resources and anthropogenic activities on the land which are evaluated by various environmental risk assessment and forecasting methodologies that enable the Department to anticipate the type of development control necessary in the planning area. The definition beforehand speaks true to the importance of the planning discipline in the assurance of sustainable development with regards to the Philippine Clean Air Act.
Gathering the data needed to plan for the effects of air pollution in human settlements was recognized in a pivotal role for Air Quality Monitoring and Information Network. Reporting the findings of these monitoring activities and research guides the decision maker and planner in making decisions that would affect the quality of life of the population. Implementing this under the Integrated Air Quality Improvement Framework would be challenging, since it seeks to prescribe the emission reduction goals using permissible standards, control strategies and control measures to be undertaken within a specified time period, including cost-effective use of economic incentives, management strategies, collective action, and environmental education and information. The monitoring and information network seeks to understand and implement the air quality standards based not only on the World Health Organization Standards but also not less as stringent than other internationally accepted standards.
The air quality standards followed by the Environmental Management Bureau which was assigned by law to take on the responsibility of air quality management was defined under Section 12 or the Ambient Air Quality Guideline Values and Standards. The standards are well articulated in following international safety standards of acceptable particulate matter overtime from different pollutants.
As a regulatory government body, the DENR-EMB provides Air Pollution clearances and Permits for Stationary Sources or industries that inadvertently produce air pollution. These permits are the control mechanisms in managing pollutants that are released into the air. Permits, emission quota and financial liability for environmental rehabilitation are prerequisites before any business that degrades air quality can be allowed. In example, under Section 18 of RA 8749; financial liability instruments may be in the form of a trsut fund, environmental insurance, surety bonds, letters of credit , as well as self-insurance are instruments that business proponents can look into.
Quality control follows into the realm of burning garbage or incineration. Section 20 of the law clearly states a ban on incineration that defined the municipal, bio0medical and hazardous wastes burning. Yet traditional methods of burining or siga are still allowed, as is with kaingin as a traditional agricultural practice. This part of the law does not seem to jive well with internationally recognized practices that also ban small pit fire burning or bush burning. This part of the law showcases the weakness of policy in pandering to the harmful practices of past just to make way for public acceptance.
In article 4 of chapter 2 of this act gave the responsibility and jurisdiction of implementing air quality controls to the Department of Transportation and Communication on monitoring and processing of permits for emission standards of pollution from motor vehicles. Any observer in EDSA could easily conclude that there is a failure of implementation in this regard. Public transport vehicles are number one in terms of violators of this law due to the alleged collusion of private testing centers in passing unworthy vehicles for a fixer’s fee. The standards are there, but as with any bureaucracy, implementation of rules and regulations is a different matter.
The law is a sound piece of legislation although it is weak in institutional support. The EMB or Environmental Management Bureau is a small office that monitors not only air quality but water and other resources as well. With a bureau sized staff, operations for implementing the law is inefficient. The resolution for this good law is to upgrade the Bureau to a separate Department of Environmental Protection with its own Cabinet level secretary to oversee its functions and mandate.