By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
A cleaner environment should also be part of the “new normal” that the Philippines would adopt amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Cynthia Villar said on Friday.
Villar, chair of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said that besides health and hygiene, environment also plays a crucial role in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
She said the improving air quality, for instance, is a “good start,” and should be sustained when the government decides to ease the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and other COVID-19 high-risk areas after May 15.
Villar cited reports showing that the Philippines’ air quality had dramatically improved since restrictions on mobility were imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on March 16.
Before the lockdowns, the Philippines ranked 57th out of 98 countries in IQAir AirVisual’s list of the “world’s most polluted countries” in 2019.
IQAir’s report said levels of particulate (PM2.5) pollution averaged 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) in the country last year, exceeding the World Health Organization’s safety limit of 10 μg/m3.
PM2.5 is a fine particle found in smoke and haze, and can be emitted from sources such as forest fires, or the gases emitted from power plants, industries, and vehicles.
These particles are associated with the heart and respiratory illnesses.
In March, the University of the Philippines-Diliman’s Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) reported a 180-percent decrease in Metro Manila’s PM2.5 since the ECQ took effect.
Experts, however, feared that air pollution will return to unhealthy levels once the community quarantine is lifted.
“We should keep this positive momentum going. It should be part of the ‘new normal’ that we are talking about. We should put in place post-lockdown environmental safeguards and strategies,” Villar said in a statement.
Villar said she plans to review the implementation of the Republic Act 8749, or the Clean Air Act, passed in 1999.
The law aimed to improve air quality throughout the country by improving gasoline quality and requiring factories to install anti-air pollution devices, among other provisions.
“The law was passed 21 years ago, just like other old laws, it needs to be reviewed, some of its provisions may need amending or updating,” she said.
Villar said she also seeks to find out the adverse effects of pollution in protected areas.