MANILA, NOVEMBER 15, 2003 (MALAYA) By EVANGELINE DE VERA - Despite the growing consciousness of Filipino companies on the benefits of sustaining the environment that enables them to conduct their business, compliance with environmental rules remains low.

More often than not, Filipino companies' rhetoric about protecting the environment that sustains their businesses are simply given either to evade monitoring by regulating bodies or as leverage being used by companies to improve their status in the industry.

Worse, government really has no capability to monitor the private sector on a regular basis. The environmental management system (EMS) that companies are expected to run to show compliance to environmental standards are all but mandatory in nature, making it doubly hard for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to go after erring companies.

Von Hernandez of Greenpeace Southeas Asia, an international environmental watchdog, said: "What company would subject itself to voluntary inspection for environmental compliance. And even if they have IS0 9003 or ISO 9004, it's really no guarantee that they are environmental compliant."

Hernandes said not all companies are required to comply to prove that they have environmentally-sound operations. In truth, EMS certifications and accreditation are often misused by companies to "greenwash" their public image and bolster their incomes. Often, only big companies have the capacity to implement EMS while smaller ones are left to do with what their smaller earnings could afford in terms of environmental compliance.

"The monitoring capabilities of DENR is inadequate, to say the least, and resources for monitoring are unavailabel. What do you expect from a once-yearly inspections? Inspectors don't even know what to look for," Hernandez said.

Ester de Tagle, spokesperson of the Coalation against Hazardous Waste, said the lack of standards for environmental management could spell doom to the country's ecological system.

"Compliance of companies is very important because the danger of contamination is very strong," she said.

Tagle pointed out that there are many loopholes in environmental laws, mainly that there are connivance between members of the private sector and the inspecting service of DENR so that they are informed beforehand that they would be subjected to an inspection.

"Maraming misteryo sa compliance. Ang nangyayari, inaabisuhan kaagad ng mga contacts nila ang mga businesses na merong problema sa environmental compliance kaya tuloy nakakapaghanda sila na linisin ang sistema. Dapat ito ang tutukan ng gobyerno," she said.

Instead of intensifying its environmental thrusts, Hernandez said government even slashed the DENR's budget from this year's P6 billion to P5 billion, barely enough to cover the department's international commitments.

Greenpeace said this is the prime proof that government is starting to dismantle the system of standard to attract more investment at the expense of the environment.

There is a serious disconnect between the so-called standards for pollution monitoring and regulatory practice, since businesses often only use EMS accreditations as an excuse to do business as usual.

"Without a strong regulatory system in place, it is bound to fail. We encounter lots of business communities losing trust in the DENR. We see the trend of the DENR budget decreasing. We can't properly fund the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Management Act, but government is all set to its deregulation agenda and even offering it as a competitive advantage," he said.

Hernandez said this is all part of the globalization efforts, breaking down barriers as preconditions of the World Bank to encourage more investments.

"We are becoming a specialist in dirty industry than encouraging industries to improve production," he claimed.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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