News Commentary

The green rationale for PUJ modernization

Lysander Castillo - Philstar.com
The green rationale for PUJ modernization

The Automotive Body Makers Association of the Philippines backs moves to modernize jeepneys. File photo

MANILA, Philippines — As early as October of last year, President Rodrigo Duterte forced the issue of the public utility jeepney modernization where he insisted that dilapidated vehicles must be phased out.
One particular point the President stressed was the air pollution caused by smoke belching. It was clear to President Duterte that public health suffers due to the emissions made by these PUJs running on worn out and fuel inefficient engines.
Consequently, the government, through the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (I-ACT), started the crackdown on smoke belching PUJs at the turn of the year. Dubbed "Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok", the program undertook apprehensions of PUJs perceived unroadworthy.
Of course, the black smoke coming out from the exhaust pipes of the jeepneys was damning evidence that indeed a certain PUJ was road unworthy.
The slogan used by I-ACT for its campaign and no less than the President raising the public health angle in this transportation issue are refreshing in the context that smoke belching by motor vehicles is expressly prohibited by the Philippine Clean Air Act since 1999.
Almost two decades have passed since the institutionalization of an anti-smoke belching policy and still smoke-emitting PUJs, buses, trucks, cars, utility vehicles, motorcycles, among others, ply our streets with apparent impunity.
Yes, there are emission checkpoints here and there, but they do not have enough regularity to mitigate the poor air quality in urban centers. Proof of the glaring failure to properly implement Republic Act No. 8749 is the dismay of hundreds of commuters of their consequent difficulty to find a ride because of the ongoing I-ACT operations, with the focus just on PUJs alone.

Vehicle emissions as leading cause of air pollution in Phl

The 2012 National Emissions Inventory provided that 69% of air pollutants came from mobile sources or motor vehicles, and 22% from sources such as construction sites, open burning of solid wastes, or slash and burn activities.
The remaining 9% is contributed by stationary sources such as power plants and factories. Moreover, said data attributes 90% of the total air pollution in the National Capital Region to mobile sources, only 9% to area sources, and just 1% to stationary sources. These findings are corroborated by an earlier Asian Development Bank (ADB) study that identifies motor vehicles as largely the source of particulate emissions in Metro Manila followed by waste burning and industries.
Related to this, the government news agency published how the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines jointly stressed the risk of air pollution to the health of Filipinos at the 2017 World Environmental Health Day. It was communicated how the annual average of PM2.5 air pollutants in Manila is 70% more than the recommended safe level of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (?g/m3) of air in a year per the WHO.
Significantly, the same report links six million deaths globally due to heart diseases, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, among others every year. It is equally dire for the Philippines with one in four deaths attributed to air pollution.

Climate change angle

Going by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, transportation accounts for 14% of the 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions with the finding that 95% of the world's transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel.
In the Philippines, however, transportation is identified to be the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions at 36.43% based on 1990-2014 data culled by Dr. Raul Fabella, et al. 
In that presentation, "other industries" is at a distant second at 20.22% followed by residential, commercial, manufacturing, and then agriculture, as the least contributor. Verily, the Department of Transportation (DoTr), in a presentation on the nationally determined contribution sectoral targets, points to transportation as "one of the largest sources of air pollution and energy-related GHG emissions in the Philippines at 34%" with PUJs said to dominate road-based public transport.
Thus, the Filipino public, especially those commuting,stand to greatly benefit from this renewed drive of government to safeguard our air quality. From an environmental management standpoint, there is indeed sufficient reason to aggressively regulate motor vehicles plying the urban centers, which are known to be major polluters.
Birth pains are to be expected as we shift from our traditional modes of transportation to more efficient and cleaner ones. If we do not embark on this now, then it will be far more difficult later on with concomitant serious public health consequences.
To this end, an excerpt from the climate change policy section of the StratbaseADR Institute publication entitled, "Thinking Beyond Politics," is worth quoting:
"Traffic congestion, a long-standing problem in Metro Manila and many Philippine cities, has serious implications on climate change. Obviously, the longer a vehicle stays on the road, the more emissions it creates and the more fuel it consumes. Perennially inadequate infrastructure therefore is not only inconvenient and economically disastrous, it has deleterious effects on the environment and even public health. Aside from improving road networks, it is high time that the government seriously invest in mass transit, which normally does not run on fossil fuels and is an efficient way of moving people in mega cities such as Metro Manila."
Lawyer Lysander Castillo is an environment fellow at the Stratbase-ADR Institute and the secretary-general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, or PBEST.
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