Doctors to Roxas: clean up Metro air or we will sue you

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) on Tuesday, April 10, threatened to file a P1-billion class suit against Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II if measures to reduce air pollution in Metro Manila are not made in accordance with the Clean Air Act. 

The doctors will base their case on a provision of Republic Act No. 8749 or the Clean Air Act, which says that the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) is "solely tasked to regulate and enforce the same clean air law on motor vehicles."

PMA Manila Governor Dr. Leo Olarte maintained that Roxas failed to do his job in enforcing regulations that would "safeguard" the quality of air in Metro Manila.

Not interested?

"We tried to communicate with him and invite him in different forums. We invited him sometime in February to participate in a summit on Clean Air organized by the PMA and other NGO organizations. Unfortunately, he did not come," Olarte told Rappler in a phone interview.  

He added that Roxas also failed to show up in another meeting held at the health department concerning the issue. "In our view, it's like his department is not interested in joining our advocacy to reduce air pollution in Metro Manila."

Olarte said this is why their group decided to invoke remedies under the Clean Air Act (RA 8749). The law says that government officials who neglect their duties in implementing the Clean Air Act may be held liable or be a defendant in a citizen's suit that will be filed by any person, agency or establishment that is affected by severe air pollution in Metro Manila. 

Unlike Roxas, Olarte said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has been actively participating in activities related to this advocacy. The Clean Air Act mandates the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to regulate the emissions of industrial dischargers.

Under the law, Olarte said, the DOTC on its own initiative can order its line agencies such as the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation and Franchising and Regulatory Office, as well as the private emission testing centers, to strictly comply with requirements take smoke-belching vehicles off the streets. 

Roxas has yet to respond to Rappler's request for his comment on the PMA's statement. 

Due Notice

Olarte said the PMA has not yet decided when the case itself will be filed. He said the group decided to come up with the statement as a way of notifying Roxas of their intent to sue. 

"The law requires a notice of 30 calendar days," he explained to Rappler. Olarte added that they are hoping that Roxas will agree to hold a dialogue with them on this matter within the period. 

Apart from Roxas, the PMA said in a statement that it will also include in the case motor vehicle operators apprehended or "proven to have polluted Metro Manila’s air."

The group urged those who have fallen ill or who have loved ones who got sick due to air pollution to come forward and sign the class suit as complainants.

Public health threat

In the PMA statement, president Dr. Oscar Tinio said the doctors are alarmed over the worsening quality of air in the metropolis because this is a threat to public health.

“The current state of air in the metropolis poses a clear and present danger to the lives of the people residing in the area. It does not only bring respiratory illnesses to Metro Manilans but can also result to cardiovascular problems like heart attack, stroke and sudden death," Tinio said in the statement.

He blamed the continuing activities of NCR air polluters and the negligence of regulatory bodies for the predicament that, he said, threatens the lives of the 14 million residents of the NCR.

Tinio noted that 80% of air pollutants in the National Capital Region come from the more than 3.2 million motor vehicles plying the streets of Metro Manila daily.

"This can be cause of our early preventable death," Olarte said. 

Polluters and negligent officials

"The provisions of Republic Act (RA) 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 confirms our individual right to breathe clean air. It also provides the legal basis for the filing of a citizen’s suit against those who violates the clean air law," Olarte said.

He cited Section 2 of RA 8749, which recognizes the principle that “polluters must pay."

Section 4(g), on the other hand, confirms an individual’s “right to bring action in court or quasi-judicial bodies to enjoin all activities in violation of environmental laws and regulations, to compel the rehabilitation and cleanup of affected area, and to seek the imposition of penal sanctions against violators of environmental laws."

Olarte said the law provides for a person’s “right to bring action in court for compensation of personal damages resulting from the adverse environmental and public health impact of a project or activity." - Rappler.com