Press Release
July 29, 2013

Privilege Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
State of the Environment 2013

Senate Session Hall
29 July 2013

Mr. President,

We open a new congress with much fervor as we take on the role of representing the varied issues and challenges that our citizens expect us to address through legislation. And though we have different advocacies, I wish to enjoin everyone, my colleagues old and new, to take a closer look at the state of our environment and how it is intrinsically linked to climate change--the greatest humanitarian and development challenge of our time.

We are all aware that typhoons are normal occurrences in a tropical country like the Philippines with some 20 typhoons heading our way every year. But lately, the occurrence of torrential rains has been increasing even with the absence of typhoons.

The heavy and excessive rainfall we are experiencing is part of what climate scientists call "the new norm." This means we shall experience weather extremes that are more widespread and harder to predict. As an archipelago, 70 percent of the cities and municipalities in the country are coastal areas; and as we experience the intensity of the changing climate through extreme weather events, our communities and citizens, especially those unprepared, become more at risk.

Scientific studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the occurrence of tropical storms can increase between 10 to 40 percent in the next century as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, these storms can become 45 percent more intense.[1]

A 2013 World Bank report revealed that 74 percent of the country's population is vulnerable to the impact of natural hazards. The Philippines recorded 2,630 disaster-related deaths in 2012 - a global record set for that year.

The challenges brought by this new norm seem daunting, but the solution can start with ourselves, and everyone's effort put together. After all, it makes a big difference when a tree is planted in every home, or a plastic bottle is put to good use instead of being dumped in a pile of other non-biodegradable waste materials, or when households manage their wastes with due regard for others, or even as simple as buying only what you need. Mr. President,

In terms of legislation, we have enough laws and policies needed to help us achieve sustainable and disaster-resilient communities.

We have the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, Marine Pollution Control Law, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, the Act Creating the People's Survival Fund, among many others. The preponderance of environmental and climate change laws, however, is not a guarantee of security.

Some of these laws are decade-old, while others have been passed more recently. Different periods present different challenges. Our task is to oversee the implementation and ensure that our laws are responsive to the challenges of today.

More than 12 years ago we enacted the Solid Waste Management Act, but from last year's statistics of the National Economic and Development Authority, only nine out of 17 local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila have submitted a solid waste management plan. Only 414 of 1,610 LGUs nationwide, or only 25.7%, have complied with the national plan.[2]

We ask why some LGUs can comply with the law, but many others do not. We need to see if there are sufficient funds to match our expectations of monitoring agencies' performance. We need to assess the state of enforcement of these laws because it is by effective enforcement that we can ensure compliance in practice.

It is in this light that I will push for an environmental audit that will bring together the experiences of experts, government agencies, and the public, to identify the issues and demolish implementation roadblocks. Mr. President,

In mitigating the effects of climate change, we need to double our efforts in protecting our environment and resuscitating our ailing ecosystems.

Air pollution from particles suspended in air, which in the country we measure as PM10 for particles with a diameter less than 10 micrometers, most directly affect transport workers and commuters. The most vulnerable population are the very young or those below 5 years old, very old or above 65 years old, pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems or with existing respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

What our equipment are unable to measure are smaller particles. Those less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter are called PM2.5 and are able to penetrate deep into the lungs. This is the air pollutant that poses the biggest threat to human health. It can damage lung tissue, aggravate existing cardiovascular diseases and lung problems or even cause cancer.[3]

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) aims to achieve the annual air quality guideline value for total suspended particulates (TSP) level of 90 micrograms per cubic meter. The air quality of our country is still dirty but gradually improving. In 2011, TSP level was already at 99 micrograms per cubic meter. It was at 145 in 2004.[4]

The DENR has installed real-time ambient air quality monitoring in four stations in Metro Manila--at the Department of Public Works and Highways office in EDSA, at the De la Salle University along Taft Avenue, at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela, and the Commonwealth Avenue Station. We expect that this will help achieve the targeted TSP level.

Air quality is also expected to improve with the rehabilitation of forests or reviving green patches in the metropolis.

According to the DENR, of the country's total land area of about 30 million hectares, only 7.168 million hectares, or 24.27 percent, are forest covered. The ideal should be at least 12 million hectares or 48 percent of the total land area.

The National Greening Program, which was officially launched in May 2011, aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land by the end of President Benigno Aquino III's administration.[5]

For 2011, 89.6 million seedlings have been planted nationwide, while in 2012, a total of 125.6 million seedlings were planted.

The program is seen to contribute to mitigating climate change since trees absorb carbon dioxide, which is among the identified causes of global warming. The NGP has also helped generate jobs--364,088 jobs in 2011 and 380,696 in 2012--in seedling production and caring for the planted seedlings.

In the aspect of coastal and marine management, we need to double our efforts so that we may rehabilitate our marine ecosystems. The past three decades have seen the rapid decline of the Philippine coastal ecosystem--70 percent of the mangroves and 20 percent of its sea-grass are destroyed; nearly 90 percent of coral reefs are under threat; and biomass of coastal fish stocks is only 10 percent.[6]

The destruction of our marine ecosystems will not only lead to the extinction of thousands of species but will also be detrimental to tourism, food supply, and sustenance and livelihood of our fisherfolk.

It is estimated that 80 percent of the animal protein requirement of Filipinos come from our seas. Our mangrove forests alone produce almost 108 million kilograms of fish annually. This means that the destruction of our reefs will radically deplete our food supply.[7]

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau is implementing the Integrated Coastal Management Program to provide technical assistance to local government units in the development and adoption of their respective ICM plans.[8]

A total of 158 LGUs have already developed their ICM plans as of May 2013 and the PAWB aims to provide technical assistance to 667 additional LGUs by 2016.

Mr. President,

Examining the respective targets of these current programs, we are hopeful that we can build an environment that would mitigate the effects of the warming climate. But we need to do more in protecting our people, especially the poor, against natural hazards.

I dare say the new norm requires from us a change in perspective, which I hope to sum up in the mantra: "resilience is an attitude."

The new norm presents threats, but we can look at the opportunities:

Resilience is an attitude - Developing climate adaptation expertise may pay off.

A new study done by Environmental Business International, Inc. estimates that, in the next seven years, the annual market for "climate adaptation services" will grow by 12 to 20 percent per year, becoming a $700-million annual market in the United States and $2 billion globally.

Resilience is an attitude - Disaster risk reduction is not a cost, but an investment.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is presently developing a compelling narrative that demonstrates the contribution of disaster risk reduction (DRR) investments into sustainable development. In the case of Pakistan, JICA has calculated that if DRR investment is ensured, approximately 25 percent more economic growth is projected for the year 2042 compared to the case without DRR investment.

Resilience is an attitude - "I may be blind, but I have vision," says visually-impaired Senator Monthian of Thailand, member of the Committee on the Rights of Person with Disabilities. Mr. Monthian Buntan has served as a Senator of the Upper House of the Royal Thai Parliament since 2008. He has been blind since birth. He has been advocating for the Improvement of Disaster Evacuation Plans around the world to meet the special needs of people including persons with disabilities, the elderly, children, refugees, and cultural/linguistic minorities.

Resilience is an attitude - The glass is half-full, because after all, hazards are natural, and it is disasters that are man-made. We can always find innovative solutions to existing problems, and most importantly, we are never out of or lacking resources, we only need to effectively manage what we have so we can maximize on them.

And what completes the solution is this theory: developing resilience may be more effective if we provide adequate social protection especially to the poor, who bear the greatest economic losses in disasters. For many of our people, every single day of work is synonymous to survival. When impassable roads due to heavy downpour prevent a daily wage earner from going to work, it would mean no earnings for the day, no food on the table.

Increasing resilience means addressing poverty, so that finally, the growth of the economy will be felt by more of our people whose quality of life will have truly improved.

Beyond addressing structural poverty or merely satisfying the basic human needs of the poor, social protection must empower the poor to reduce their vulnerability and strengthen their resilience, and to free themselves from persistent poverty and inequality.

Mr. President,

While heavy and excessive rainfall is part of the new normal, we need not live with the risks that disrupt our social and economic activities. We need not have flooded streets, heavy traffic, and stranded commuters in the metropolis or washed away houses, collapsed bridges, displaced families and devastated farmlands for every intense rain or typhoon.

We must learn from our past experiences and practice enhanced disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness more than mere response. We must prove ourselves more proactive and more effective in reducing risks.

We cannot prevent typhoons from unleashing strong winds and voluminous rainfall, but we can reduce the vulnerability and exposure of our people and our economy to natural hazards.

As long as we tread in the right path towards sustainable development and a healthy environment with the character and attitude of resilience, we will be able to weather the challenges of the new norm.

Thank you, Mr. President.


[1] Tropical cyclones to become stronger, more frequent, says study. Agence France Presse, 9 July 2013.
[2] DENR backs solid waste plan. 29 April 2013.
[3] HEALTH IMPACTS OF AIR POLLUTION, Rodolfo M. Albornoz, MD, MPH Chief, Environmental & Occupational Health Office National Center for Disease Prevention & Control
[4] DENR- Environmental Management Bureau
[5] DENR.
[6] WorldFish Report 2010/11
[7] DENR
[8] DENR- Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau

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