Solid waste management body being sued for ‘negligence’ | Inquirer News

Solid waste management body being sued for ‘negligence’

/ 04:57 AM June 28, 2021

Gloria Estenzo Ramos and Roy Cimatu

MANILA, Philippines — Conservation and environmental law groups seek to sue the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) and representatives of its member-agencies for “gross and persistent negligence” in the implementation of the law, particularly in preparing a list of nonenvironmentally acceptable products.

In a notice sent to the commission, Oceana Philippines, a marine conservation group, said it would seek legal action against the NSWMC, citing its failure to exercise its mandate under the two-decade old Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, or Republic Act No. 9003.

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“Since RA 9003 became effective in 2001, the commission has taken 20 years—an entire generation—before it could even identify a grand total of two inconsequential products in a resolution replete with deficiencies,” read the June 15 notice.

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“In effect, this commission has allowed the unabated proliferation of billions of tons of products that are decidedly not environmentally acceptable under the law,” Oceana said.

The Inquirer reached out to Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, who serves as the commission’s alternate chair, for comment, but he has not responded as of press time.

Citizens can file appropriate civil, criminal and administrative actions against violators under RA 9003, provided that public officers and violators are given 30 days notice and that no appropriate action has been taken.

Under Sections 29 and 30, which would be the basis of Oceana’s lawsuit, the NSWMC, which is attached to the Office of the President, is tasked with preparing a list of nonenvironmentally accepted products a year after the law’s effectivity and to review and update this list annually. It should also determine a period to phase out these products.

Only 2 listed since 2001

In February, 20 years after RA 9003, the commission approved the first products on this list: plastic soft drink straws and plastic coffee stirrers, which would be phased out a year from the publication of the official resolution. Oceana, however, said that upon checking with the University of the Philippines Law Center, no such resolution has yet been filed.

Environment advocates and civil society groups said the two products were not enough, and called on the NSWMC to expand the list and include single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, plastic cutleries, plastic bottles and sachets.

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A 2015 report by international group Ocean Conservancy revealed that the Philippines produces 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste annually, and is the third biggest marine plastic polluter in the world.

A more recent study in 2019 by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives showed that the country disposes of 163 million plastic sachets and 45.2 million pieces of thin-film plastic bags every day.

Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said there were enough scientific studies and research that the NSWMC could use to include more products that are harmful to the environment and human health.

‘Shameful’

“It’s shameful that it has been 20 years, but they are still working on life-cycle assessments of these products,” she said. “Their eyes seem to be blindfolded to the impacts that are already happening [due to these single-use plastics].”

Oceana sent copies of its notice to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who sits as NSWMC chair, as well as to the heads of its member-agencies, including the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Health, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Of the 14 member-agencies, only the Department of the Interior and Local Government was not given a notice since it was able to lay down its action plans on solid waste management, Ramos said.

Also sitting as commission members are three representatives from the private sector—one each from nongovernmental organizations, the manufacturing industry and the recycling sector.

Health priority

Ramos said civil society groups would join Oceana in seeking legal remedy. Among them are the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, the Philippine Earth Justice Center, and youth organizations across the country.

“The purpose of this civil suit is for the commission and its member-agencies to shape up and prioritize our health and the health of our planet,” she said.

“We need to hold the government accountable because we think there is no political will and no sense of urgency to perform their mandate,” she added.

Aside from filing civil, administrative and criminal cases before the courts, Ramos said the groups were exploring other legal remedies, such as the writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus.

The NSWMC was created under the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which was signed in 2001, to prepare the country’s solid waste management framework and oversee the implementation of solid waste management plans.

Oceana’s action comes on the heels of a House resolution filed earlier this month by Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, which called for an inquiry into the NSWMC, also on its inaction on RA 9003. The lawmaker was a principal author of the law in the Senate.

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In the resolution, Legarda said the commission had “unjustifiably failed” to act on its functions despite the P1.3-billion budget given to it in 2016 and 2017.

TAGS: NSWMC

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