Who’s In-Charge Of Air Quality?

Confusion as to which government agency should address the issue of air pollution in Metro Manila, attributed primarily to motor vehicle emissions, is now hogging the Departments of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

While the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) insists that the responsibility of ensuring air quality rests on the DOTC, the department headed by Secretary Manuel ''Mar'' Roxas II cried foul over threats of a class suit because of worsening air pollution in the capital.

Earlier, the PMA announced an impending class suit that it will file against the DOTC for allegedly ''failing miserably'' in protecting the quality of air in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The group of doctors said Roxas will be named in the lawsuit for being the chief of the sole government agency tasked under Republic Act No. 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, with regulating and enforcing the law on vehicles.

Aside from Roxas, owners and operators of smoke-belching vehicles - the ones that failed the Land Transportation Office's (LTO's) emission test - will also be named respondents in the complaint.

Roxas refused to personally comment on his inclusion in the lawsuit, saying it is premature to do so since the case is yet to be filed before the courts.

Dr. Leo Olarte, PMA governor for Manila, also rejected a declaration by DOTC Spokesman Nicasio Conti, who said that the lead implementing agency for the Clean Air Act is the DENR.

''DOTC Spokesman, Atty. Nicasio, Conti should have studied thoroughly our statements on the reasons why air quality in the metropolis is currently life threatening before commenting on it so as not to embarrass the leadership of the DOTC and put into bad light the image of the entire department,'' said Olarte.

For his part, Conti insisted that it is the DENR that takes the lead role of implementing anti-smoke-belching measure.

''A review of the provisions of the Clean Air Act clearly shows that the role of the DOTC in implementing this measure is limited to the conduct of emission tests to vehicles,'' he added.

Olarte maintained that if DOTC and its attached agencies like the LTO collaborate in their duties to safeguard the air against smoke belching motor vehicles, then air pollution will be reduced in Metro Manila by as much as 80 percent.

''It is a fact that eighty (80) percent of air pollutants in Metro Manila comes from the 3.2 million motor vehicles plying the streets of the metropolis daily. Corruption involving the emission testing of motor vehicles in the NCR accounts for the majority of the life-threatening air that we breathe in Metro Manila. No less than President Benigno S. Aquino III, in a public statement last February 16, 2012 at La Consolation College in Manila, said that they found out that the maximum number of motor vehicles that a single emission testing machine can do in a day is only 80 but when they checked the records of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) they discovered that a single emission testing machine is actually testing 600 vehicles a day. This kind of physical impossibility is a major factor why you and I are breathing killer quality air today in the metropolis'' he said.