Environmental groups praise Supreme Court resolution on plastic pollution

Supreme Court resolution on plastic pollution
Non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging causing plastic pollution are required to be phased out by the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. Oceana Philippines photo.

Environmental health organizations in the Philippines are jointly praising the Supreme Court’s immediate resolution on a civil society lawsuit to compel the government to act on non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging (NEAPP) causing plastic pollution.

The groups from non-government organizations including Oceana, the youth sector, fisherfolk, divers, waste pickers, and local lawmakers lauded the Supreme Court (SC) for issuing the Writ of Kalikasan and the Writ of Continuing Mandamus for the government’s non-implementation of the NEAPP provisions of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

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The resolution was issued on December 7, 2021, just over a month since the landmark plastic pollution lawsuit was filed last October 27 by 52 petitioners from the civil society, including the Quezon City-based Oceana Philippines, Puerto Princesa City-based Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), and Davao City-based Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS).

Under Section 29 of RA 9003, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) is tasked to prepare a list of non-environmentally acceptable products one year after the law has taken effect.

Section 30 of the law bans commercial establishments from selling or conveying products placed, wrapped, or packaged in non-environmentally acceptable packaging after the phase-out period.

“The petitioners welcome and consider the resolution and the immediate action by the SC meaningful in the imperative fight against the plastic crisis. The issuance of the writs by the SC, and the referral to the Court of Appeals for hearing and reception of evidence, is indication that the Court stands by its affirmed human stewardship of the planet,” declared Atty. Camille Parpan, counsel for the petitioners in a media release dated December 17.
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Petitioners welcome SC issuance of Writ of Kalikasan, Writ of Continuing Mandamus vs. National Solid Waste Management Commission and agencies on plastic pollution lawsuit

Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of ELAC, noted that “while Palawan and other parts of the country are still reeling from the adverse effects of typhoon Odette, the SC’s issuance of the writs of Kalikasan and Mandamus are truly wonderful news for ELAC and other colleagues as it gives us hope and strength to push government to perform its mandate under RA 9003 and other implementing regulations.”

“We hope that the government agencies will seriously take the needed action to comply with our laws. There is urgency in the implementation of the NEAPP provisions in our law as this has been long overdue,” she emphasized.

“IDIS welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court as we continue to fight against the plastic crisis,” said Atty. Mark Peñalver, Executive Director of IDIS. “As an NGO working towards the protection and sustainable management of the watersheds in South-Central Mindanao, we saw how plastic pollution affects our watersheds and our water sources and endangers wildlife and their habitats. IDIS, along with our partners, was successful in lobbying for the regulation of single-use plastics in Davao City.”

“However, without clear guidelines from the National Government, the LGUs can only do so much within its authority. Thus, this case is of significant interest in our fight against the plastic crisis as this will set a precedent to future policies especially to the LGUs,” he clarified. “This decision by the SC reaffirms the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.”

Other environmental health organizations also lauded the said SC resolution, which, according to petitioner Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos of Oceana Philippines, “sets a solid foundation and precedent upon which we can build our collective efforts to battle the plastic crisis.”

“Amid the climate emergency crisis marked by more frequent extreme weather events like the devastating Typhoon Odette, we laud the SC for acting fast on the plastic pollution lawsuit filed by civil society petitioners. Coming from a climate disaster-prone community, we fully see the urgency of identifying and phasing out NEAPP that contribute to the degradation and pollution of our natural environment. Had the NSWMC complied with the requirements of RA 9003 on the listing and eventual phase-out of NEAPP 20 years ago, our struggle toward a zero waste and non-toxic economy would have been more within our reach,” observed Noli Abinales, President, Buklod Tao, Inc.

“We welcome the SC’s resolution on the groundbreaking plastic pollution lawsuit filed by the civil society. This we hope will lead to industry switching to clean production and sustainable product redesign in order to replace hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of goods and their packaging, so they can be safely used, reused, or recycled. The issuance of the long-awaited NEAPP list will be good for the people and the planet, and will be profitable for business in the long run,” said Sonia Mendoza, Chairman, Mother Earth Foundation (MEF).

The waste and pollution watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition had earlier commended the SC for its immediate action, which will obligate the NSWMC to implement the NEAPP provisions of RA 9003. “This will hasten our nation’s quest toward a zero waste and toxic-free circular economy,” stated Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, which includes Buklod Tao, ELAC, IDIS and MEF among its over 150 member groups.

The respondents which included the NSWMC and its members Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, Health secretary Francisco Duque III, Public Works secretary Roger Mercado, Agriculture secretary William Dar, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) CEO Benhur Abalos, among others, are required to make a Verified Return and Comment on the Petition before the Court of Appeals within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from receipt of the writs.

The case was referred to the Court of Appeals for acceptance of the Verified Return and Comment and for hearing, reception of evidence, and rendition of judgment. The Supreme Court however denied the prayer for the ex-parte Temporary Environmental Protection Order.

“The Petitioners shall await the copy of the Respondents’ Verified Return and shall extensively prepare for the hearing on the petition. In the meantime, Oceana Philippines International and its fellow petitioners reiterate the urgency and importance of concrete action to stop the plastic pollution at the very source and opting for non-plastic alternatives. While the case is still pending determination by the courts, it is important that everyone contributes in solving the plastic crisis,” said Parpan.

A study published in Science Advances in April of this year singled out the Philippines as the largest contributor to plastic emissions in the world emits 356,371 metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste per year, which passes through 4,280 of its rivers and into the ocean. As staggering as that figure is, it represents only 8.8% of the total mismanaged plastic waste of the country, which is estimated at 4,049,670 metric tons per year.

Another study released in 2015 by Ocean Conservancy indicated that the Philippines produced 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste – of which more than half a million metric tons ended up in the ocean. According to the 2019 Waste Management Brand Audit report of the Global Alliance for Incinerators Alternatives (GAIA), the country produces 164 million pieces of sachets, 48 million shopping bags, and 45.2 million pieces of “labo” bags every day.

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