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Ethics and accountability


We heaved a collective sigh of relief. The first-ever judgment by the Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court,  was generally accepted as fair and just, except for a few gripes, which were not unexpected. The impeachment trial was one of the momentous moments in our  history.

Corona’s conviction connotes our determination  that honesty, transparency and accountability be deeply enmeshed in our political system. We hope that henceforth higher  standards of ethics and accountability will be practiced, with the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission leading the way for  public servants to be guided by laws against graft and corruption such as R.A. 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and R.A. 9485, the Anti-Red Tape Act and prosecuting erring officers, if necessary. May complacent public officials learn to take their responsibilities “with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.” (RA 6713)

Hopefully,  the rule of law will begin to flourish in our country, and with that, the no-nonsense enforcement of our world-class but largely unimplemented environmental laws.

Thus, as lawyer and environmental advocate pushing for the accountability of the enforcement agencies and officials who are wilfully neglecting and refusing to perform the mandates of their offices, I am confident that the days of utmost efficiency in the delivery of public service will no longer be in the realm of dreams and imagination.

We should not however forget that the government can only do so much to protect the people and the environment. A vigorous engagement of the citizenry ensures  protection of  our rights to life, health and a healthful and balanced ecology.

By way of example, campaigns by non-government organizations such as Eco Waste Coalition’s Project Protect are gaining attention in  pushing government to be more concerned with the proliferation of play stations, school bags, supplies, and equipment containing harmful substances for our citizens especially children. Some back packs examined to have high toxic content were give-aways of a local government unit.

According to Dr. Bessie Antonio, a pediatric toxicologist from the East Avenue Medical Center and resource person of the Eco Waste Coalition, “Exposure to cadmium, lead and phthalates can adversely affect a child’s healthy and well-rounded development and should be prevented by all means such as through the provision of school materials that are guaranteed safe for kids.”

The Cebu City Council passed a resolution on May 30 urging the owners and proprietors of  play houses/play stations and public and private schools for children, “to initiate lead hazard assessment of their structures and equipment, and undertake remedial action to address these concerns to ensure that all forms of toxic exposure which seriously endangers the health of our children are proactively prevented.” Since promotion of public health and safety is a police power lodged with the LGUs, the crafting of  local ordinances such as mandatory labeling and making the industry and sellers accountable for selling toxic substances are long overdue. The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health likewise play key roles in protecting the rights of consumers and their health. They should render technical assistance and collaborate with the LGUs to pave the way for the enactment of the local ordinance.

* * *

Kudos to Ayala Center Cebu for initiating the Green Friday campaign. Retailers and customers are encouraged to bring their bags or bayong and dispense with the use of plastic bags. This is certainly a laudable move by the business community that will ingrain much-needed practice  in considering our now plastic-dominated planet while shopping.

Why should plastic bags be regulated? Ms. Sonia Mendoza of Mother Earth Foundation shared some reasons:

Plastic bags use up natural resources and energy, being made from polyethylene, which comes from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

Data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency shows that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. This translates to about a million bags every minute across the globe, or 150 bags a year for every person on earth1.

Plastic bags take between 20 and 1000 years to break down in the environment. Plastic bags do not bio-degrade rather, they photodegrade. They simply break apart into ever smaller pieces, eventually forming “plastic  dust” -  which eventually contaminate soil and warerways.

Plastic bags are the top debris collected in Philippine water bodies. Discards survey in 2006 and 2010: EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Greenpeace found plastic bags comprising 51.4% and 27.7%, respectively of the flotsam in Manila Bay. Plastics in general, including plastic bags, made up 76.9 and 75.55 % respectively.

Plastic bags and packaging kill marine life. More than 1 million birds, more than 100,000 whales, seals and turtles, and countless fish worldwide are killed by plastic rubbish every year  through entanglement, suffocation, and starvation by ingestion.

Plastic is getting into the food chain. Even the finest particles of plastic represent a threat to creatures at the lowest level of the food chain in the marine environment, the filter-feeders. Then, toxins in filter-feeders are passed up the food chain to fish and other marine animals, which humans then consume.

What can we do? Mother Earth Foundation  strongly recommends the following actions:

• Enact and implement policies or ordinances phasing-out or banning the production and use of plastic bags. Albay is the latest LGU which has regulated the use of plastic bags.

• Learn more about the impact of plastic packaging.

• Begin today to limit, and then eventually stop, your consumption of plastic bags.

• Know and use  alternatives. Many are more convenient, cheap in the long run and friendly to our environment.

• Develop an iron will and a heart of gold. Refuse to accept plastic bags from clerks who habitually stuff your purchases into the standard packaging. Smile when you do it. “I’m  sorry, I can’t use plastic bags – they’re choking  our  waterways  and  killing  marine  animals.”

Let us be more ethically conscious of our footprints and make each day a World Environment Day, by not putting our planet  and its endangered biodiversity on a perilous course with plastic and styros.

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Tags: Environmental Issues , Government , Graft and Corruption , local government , plastic bags

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