Groups, scientists bring gov't to court for alleged neglect of PH 'plastics crisis'

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 27 2021 02:40 PM | Updated as of Oct 27 2021 03:55 PM

Volunteers sort the day’s garbage at the Brgy. San Juan South Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) on September 16, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Volunteers sort the day’s garbage at the Brgy. San Juan South Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) on September 16, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— At least 50 petitioners from Oceana Philippines, Filipino scientists, and fisherfolk on Wednesday filed before the Supreme Court a petition against the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) and other government officials over their supposed neglect in implementing solid waste management laws in the country. 

The petition seeks the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan and a Writ of Continuing Mandamus, plus a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) to stop the sale, manufacture, and distribution of "non-environmentally acceptable plastic products" such as single-use plastics. 

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy to protect people's constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology if violated or threatened to be violated by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee or private individual or entity. 

The environmental damage must affect the life, health or property of inhabitants of 2 or more cities or provinces.

The petitioners said plastic products of the following nature should be stopped from being produced and distributed: 

  • disposable plastics
  • plastic products that contain bisphenol A, phthalates, other known endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • plastics that have "persistent organic pollutants" classified in the Stockholm Convention
  • plastic products that are not re-usable, not biodegradable or compostable
  • non-recyclable plastics
  • plastics that are toxic or hazardous to the environment 

 

Named as respondents in the petition were Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, acting Public Works Secretary Roger Mercado, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, and Agriculture Secretary William Dar, among other Cabinet members. 

The petitioners, which include former Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, also asked the court to compel the commission to "immediately perform their duty" under the Constitution and the Paris Agreement, among other accords. 

Oceanographer Deo Onda is an expert witness. 

"The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act has faced more than two decades of neglect by the NSWMC, compounding the burgeoning plastic crisis in the Philippines," Oceana said in a statement.

Oceana Philippines' Gloria Ramos added that the petition signifies their sincerity in showing that immediate action should be done to protect the environment. 

"We are already on the edge... ang Pilipinas nga ang (the Philippines is) one of the sources of plastic pollution, mismanaged plastic waste... maayos ba ang ating pagka-steward, naaalagaan ba ang ating karagatan?" Ramos explained. 

(Have we been good stewards of the environment, our oceans?)

HEALTH HAZARDS

Their plea also cited health hazards of unregulated plastic wastes, with some of the petitioners experiencing its impact directly. 

They also lamented the presence of microplastics found in some of the commercially-available fishes in the country, which "contaminates the food web," thus the risk of being ingested by humans. 

"While the Respondents continue to refuse to regulate plastic waste, petitioner-fisherfolk continue to catch less fish and more plastic; a married petitioner continues to have trouble having children; a youth-petitioner continues to be inundated by worsening floods aggravated by plastic pollution," the petition read. 

"Another youth-petitioner continues to live in fear of plastic waste leaching chemicals into their tap water."

In a virtual briefing, Oceana's legal counsel Michael De Castro said the petitioners have witnessed environmental degradation caused by plastics, which could have been supposedly prevented if the commission upheld their mandate.

"Maliban sa toxic ng maraming nasa loob ng plastics. Hazardous din siya, may danger na pino-pose. Mayroon kaming petitioners na nakita nila 'yung isda mismo may plastic sa katawan," De Castro said. 

(Aside from its toxicity, plastics are also hazardous, they are dangerous. 

"For 10 years, nakita nila na... plastic bursting out of their stomachs. Klarong-klaro na non-environmentally acceptable ang plastics," the lawyer added.

(They saw plastic bursting out of the fish's stomachs. It is clear that plastics are non-environmentally acceptable)

If the Supreme Court will grant the Writ of Kalikasan, the petitioners said it would supposedly help make a "stronger" case and protection for the environment, and would also fast track the "effective resolution of a case involving the violation of one's constitutional right to a healthful and balanced ecology."

The House of Representatives in late July passed a measure that seeks to gradually phase out the production, sale, and use of single-use plastics. 

The measure seeks to protect life on land and water from hazards posed by plastic pollution, prolong the service life of sanitary landfills, and discourage the consumption of single-use plastic products.

A study in April this year found that the Philippines contributed 36 percent of the plastic waste that ended up in the world's oceans, with the Pasig River also being identified as the top plastic pollution source. 

Seven of the 10 rivers that contributed plastic pollution in the world's oceans are located in the country, it showed.

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