Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Legislative Bans to Protect the Environment : Are They Worth the Hassle?

Elpidio V. Peria
23 January 2011

Legislative Bans to Protect the Environment :
Are They Worth the Hassle?

            The week that passed was full of news reports about the recent Muntinlupa City Ordinance that took effect January 18 2011  banning the use of plastic bags and polystyrene items (also known as styrofoam) as packaging materials. As an alternative, the ordinance, Ordinance No. 10-109, fosters the use of environment-friendly bags like those made of recycled and reusable materials like cloth.

            One of the rationale cited by the promoters of the ordinance was the fact that plastic bags do not degrade well and get mixed up in solid waste, and as the experience of typhoon Ondoy has shown, and others like it, have contributed to the clogging of esteros and other waterways in Metro Manila, leading to flooding and all the other miseries associated with it.

            It is hoped that with this ban, plastics will become less and less be  a part of the solid waste stream in Metro Manila, hopefully improving the flow in the waterways that are usually clogged.

            To ensure that this is followed through, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) issued a press release urging other local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila to do the same.
            The Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that it is a landmark measure as it is the first of its kind in Metro Manila.

            First here means on the banning of plastics.

            Many years back, in the early nineties, I can recall then Green Forum, an environmental NGO based in Manila, advocating the use of “bayong” and other similar bags made of indigenous materials, to do away with plastic, especially in high-end groceries in Makati.
            Come to think of it, there were other similar local legislative measures banning other things, all  in the aim of protecting the environment. 

            We have an existing ordinance banning the entry, planting and even selling of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the province of Negros Occidental, which evolved from a joint declaration by the two Negros provinces making  Negros Oriental and Occidental an “Organic Island” back in 2006 whereby organic  agriculture will be practiced, to tap the export markets for these types of products.

            Much earlier, if you will also call it that, as it has the same effect, is the moratorium on mining, in the province of Mindoro. I can't recall now which part of Mindoro was it but it was a 25-year moratorium, perhaps our readers will be so kind to update us what has happened to this legislative measure.

            A more recent moratorium is the indefinite ban on metallic mining in Romblom Province, the ordinance of which was signed only last January 10, 2011 by Romblon Governor Eduardo Firmalo.

            If you count the ban on smoking also as a measure to protect the environment, then we have gone this way before, with Davao City assiduously implementing it, with one municipal trial court judge even penalizing a lawyer for violating it.

            While we're at this, let us not forget the ban on open-pit mining here in South Cotabato which is still being opposed by pro-mining groups and those who stand to lose a large amount of income from mining.

            There is also an existing ban on fishing pelagic fish species, or those taken from the high seas going beyond the 15km limit currently imposed in the waters in South Central Mindanao agreed upon by our officials in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources with the Western Pacific Fisheries Commission, an inter-governmental body taking care of fisheries matters in Western Pacific  and the reason was that the fish stocks need this ban in order for the fish to grow to a size where it can reproduce and that the entire fish population can continue till the next generation, enough for it to be “economically useful” to the consuming public.

            It is also important to stabilize the already depleted fish stocks in the country.
            Ultimately, as this column asks -  these bans -  are they worth the hassle?

            It must be said that these bans starts out with good intentions, and with a serious purpose, in all types of legislative measures, a ban on something is tantamount to a death sentence or a maximum penalty on a certain activity.

            But there appears to be no serious study or evaluation if they have really attained their stated aims.

            Of course, the answer to this is that they have not been given the chance to work.

            The debate is clouded by complaints by those affected by the ban, either in the loss of livelihood and other existing trade and other benefits  existing prior to the ban.

            There should however be a serious evaluation, perhaps either by NGOs or academic institutions, especially those involved in public administration, to objectively assess these bans, when they are implemented,  and see if they really work, and if not, to find ways to remedy the situation it is also trying to solve.

            But to say these bans are useless should not be the way to go, they should be given all the chance to be effective, and after a certain period of implementation, if they are proven, after a serious study to really not work, then, by all means, it's about time to try something else.

            The Department of Interior and Local Government, instead of acting like a court giving its own opinion to LGUs on the legal merits of such bans, should rather instead study closely these bans while it is in effect, and recommend measures later how to regenerate the natural resources, which the ban seeks to achieve, among other things.


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