Privilege Speech: Living Green Today for a Healthier and Safer Tomorrow

June 8, 2015

Privilege Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
 “Living Green Today for a Healthier and Safer Tomorrow”
8 June 2015 | Senate Session Hall

“The day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come—generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.”[1]


Mr. President,


I have just quoted the Philippine Supreme Court in its landmark decision 22 years ago that upheld the concept of inter-generational responsibility — the responsibility of every generation to ensure that succeeding generations will continue to enjoy a balanced and healthful ecology.


Last June 5, we observed the World Environment Day. Today, we celebrate World Oceans Day.


These celebrations ought to make us value the natural resources we are bountifully blessed with and encourage us to fulfill our duty as stewards of the Earth. Lamentably, there are many threats to our environment and biodiversity, many of which are human-induced.


We are responsible in keeping our planet healthy, clean and safe for future generations. But if we assess the status of our environment today, do our children and grandchildren, and the generations to come deserve the Earth we will leave behind for them?


According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is the world’s biggest environmental problem. About eight million people worldwide die each year because of poor air quality.


India and China have the most number of polluted cities included in the top 20 most polluted in the world. Delhi in India is number one on the list. Particulate matter pollution in the city for 2012 is at 261 micrograms per cubic meter. The standard should be 60 micrograms per cubic meter.[2]


The poor quality of air in these two countries has resulted in the decrease in life expectancy of Indians by 3.2 years and of Chinese by 3 years.[3] In India, for every 100,000 people, 155 die of chronic respiratory disease.[4]


Here in our country, we have yet to reach the standard air quality, but it is gradually improving.


In the monitoring of the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in the National Capital Region (NCR) between January and April 2015, the total suspended particulates (TSP) in the air is at 130 micrograms per cubic meter.[5] The international standard for TSP is 90 micrograms per cubic meter.


The Clean Air Act should be our tool in improving air quality in our country.


In terms of water quality, we take a look at Manila Bay, which is bordered by five cities of NCR and four provinces in Regions 3 and 4, and within its watershed are 12 other cities in Metro Manila and four other provinces.


Even in its current polluted state, the bay continues to be a source of food, livelihood and recreation to an estimated 23 million Filipinos. It is estimated that at least P8.7 billion a year is earned from Manila Bay’s resources used in aquaculture, tourism, and in port, harbors and offshore fisheries.


In the 2013 report[6] of the DENR’s Manila Bay Coordinating Office, it said that in terms of liquid waste management:


·      Only 44 percent of the 3,381 monitored industries and commercial establishments have complied with the DENR-EMB effluent standards;

·      Only 10 percent of the 14,015,100 total household population (MWSS coverage) are connected to sewer lines and served by sewerage system; and,

·      30 percent of the pollution loading is treated in accordance with current regulations and standards.


Meanwhile, in terms of solid waste management:


•       Out of 178 LGUs within the Manila Bay region, only 51 percent are compliant with segregation-at-source; 50 percent for segregated collection; only 44 percent with functional materials recovery facilities (MRFs); and 30 percent with the allowed disposal facilities/ sanitary landfills.

•       Only two of the concerned local government units have an approved 10-Year Solid Waste Management Plan.


The harrowing fact: more than 60 percent of the waste collected by environmental groups in the Manila Bay during a clean-up drive were made of plastic[7], which is very dangerous because plastic bags can choke and poison marine species and damage marine ecosystems.


According to the study, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean[8], published in the journal Science, of the 275 million tons of plastic waste generated in 192 coastal countries worldwide in 2010, plastic debris entering the ocean was somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons.


The Philippines is the third top contributor with around 0.28-0.75 million metric tons of plastic marine waste annually, next only to China and Indonesia.


This goes to show that we must strictly enforce the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, otherwise, all efforts to rehabilitate Manila Bay and all other marine ecosystems would be futile. Unless we learn how to manage our waste, starting with proper garbage segregation and disposal, we will never be able to clean our waters and our communities.


Meanwhile, in terms of protecting and preserving our rich biodiversity, we need greater and immediate action against unregulated development.


Our forests, our oceans and our mineral deposits have come under such intense human pressure that our biodiversity and whole ecosystem are now under threat.


A significant step towards the preservation and protection of our country’s biodiversity is the establishment of a system of protected areas – ranging from huge natural parks, to landscapes and seascapes. This is what we aim with the passage of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.


However, even with the passage of measures such as the Expanded NIPAS Act, the collaborative effort between and among government agencies, civil society and the citizenry is the most important step towards protecting our natural resources and heritage.


The Ifugao Rice Terraces, dubbed as the Eighth Wonder of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has already been removed from UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger in 2012, but today unmanaged development continues to threaten this cultural treasure.


Multistory structures and shanties made of cemented walls and tin roofs are already replacing the resilient traditional Ifugao houses, thereby losing the cultural and aesthetic value of the villages surrounding the terraces. Reports also say that pests, including worms and snails, are causing major damage to the structures of the terraces, causing some to collapse.


The Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that was damaged when the US Navy ship USS Guardian ran aground on the reef in 2013.


The US Government has already paid the Philippine Government the full amount of compensation for damage to 2,000 square meters of the reef area and promised to provide assistance to the Philippine Coast Guard in upgrading its substation in Tubbataha. The greater challenge now is the reef’s successful rehabilitation.


Furthermore, there should be concerted effort to protect and rehabilitate coral reefs in all marine ecosystems in the country.


A typical square kilometer of healthy coral reef can produce up to 40 metric tons of seafood every year.[9] The Tubbataha Reef generates over 200 metric tons of seafood annually. However, only one percent of coral reefs in the country remain in excellent condition.


Boracay Island, a popular tourist destination in our country, is suffering from coral cover loss. According to a study funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), tourism-related activities such as unmonitored snorkeling and diving were seen as the culprit behind the 70 percent coral cover loss in the island over a 23-year period, from 1988 to 2011.[10]


Also a great threat to biodiversity conservation as well as to our climate change mitigation efforts is the alarming increase in the number of coal-fired power plants in the country. Amid our call for sustainable development and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it is unfortunate that we will continue to witness coal plants being constructed in the next few years. In the past five years alone, 21 coal-fired power plant projects were granted an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) by the DENR.


This is not the kind of environment that our children and our children’s children deserve.  Even before they are born, they have already been robbed of their right to a healthy, safe and secure living environment.


We must all work towards building a sustainable and resilient community, one that respects biodiversity and corrects the misconception that natural resources are infinite. Our extractive and consumptive practices must change. Greed must cease. Let us all become true stewards of the environment that has been entrusted to humankind.


Inter-generational responsibility needs to move from being an idea to a plan of concrete and urgent action.


If we start today, there is no promise that we will be lucky enough to see the undoing of the damage on our environment within our lifetime, but at least, we leave our world with the gift of hope for a better, kinder future.


Thank you, Mr. President.




[1] Supreme Court En Banc Decision, Oposa vs. Factoran, G.R. No. 101083 July 30, 1993.

[2] “13 out of world’s top 20 polluted cities in India, only three in China”, Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi| Jun 05, 2015

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Battling deadly air pollution on World Environment Day”, Mohd Abdul Alam, Aljazeera | 05 Jun 2015

[5] DENR-EMB Air Quality Report June 2, 2015

[6] Status of the Rehabilitation of the Manila Bay, DENR-Manila Bay Coordinating Office | October 2013

[7] EcoWaste Coalition, Greenpeace and Mother Earth Foundation; “Plastic bags most common trash in Manila Bay – groups”, Pia Ranada, Rappler | July 5, 2014

[8] “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, Jenna R. Jambeck, Roland Geyer, Chris Wilcox, Theodore R. Siegler, Miriam Perryman, Anthony Andrady, Ramani Narayan, Kara Lavender Law; Science 13 February 2015: Vol. 347 no. 6223 pp. 768-771, DOI: 10.1126/science.1260352

[9] World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines

[10] “Boracay experiencing beach erosion, 70% coral loss”, Ted Torres, The Philippine Star, June 5, 2015