ONE of the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9003, otherwise known as the "Ecological Solid Waste Act of 2000," directs the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) to publish a list of "non-environmentally acceptable products" (NEAP) and update it on an annual basis, in order to prevent the manufacture, import, and use of products and materials that are harmful to the environment.

Twenty-one years have passed since RA 9003 took effect, and the country is still waiting for the first installment of this list. This is negligent mismanagement that verges on being criminal, as the NEAP is a clear requirement of the law.

The NSWMC is a multi-agency body created by RA 9003 to be the chief implementer of the Solid Waste Act. It is chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and most of the work of the commission is handled by the DENR's Solid Waste Management Division (SWMD). The purpose of the NEAP is actually quite practical, as it gives the NSWMC the authority to impose bans on harmful products without the need to pass a new law each time the DENR makes a determination that something needs to be added to the list.

Of course, it can only work if the DENR and NSWMC carry out their mandate as the law intended. What they have done instead is to build a record of 20 years of half-hearted actions and feeble excuses that should shame every official responsible for it during that time.

Get the latest news
delivered to your inbox
Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters
By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Actually, check that: It's only 15 years; it took the NSWMC until 2006 to adopt a resolution to form a technical working committee to develop guidelines for determining what products should be placed on the NEAP list.

It took another three years for those guidelines to be completed, an additional six years for a study on life cycle analysis, a key tool for assessing potentially harmful products to be accepted, and a further six years for any other meaningful action to be taken. That most recent action, in February 2021, was to adopt a resolution stating that plastic straws and coffee stirrers should be added to the NEAP list.

In August last year, the DENR issued a letter to the NSWMC ordering the release of the NEAP list, but at the same, also directing the NSWMC and SWMD to "begin drafting" the NEAP guidelines. That suggested the list was nowhere near ready for implementation, which certainly seems to have been confirmed by the fact that, a year later, no list has appeared, even though at the time (according to news reports dated Aug. 12, 2021) then environment undersecretary Benny Antiporda said he expected the NEAP list to be released "in about a week."

Concerned environmental groups have understandably lost patience with the DENR and NSWMC. In recent comments to The Manila Times, lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, the vice president of Oceana Philippines, said: "There is an absolute necessity to stop single-use plastic at source — from manufacture, production, importation and distribution — through the full implementation of RA 9003. Oceana and our partners from various sectors have been urging the NSWMC to perform all of its mandates under the law, including the annual listing of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging as defined by the regulations, which includes single-use plastics. That needed action from the commission is more than 20 years overdue." In October last year, a group led by Oceana and former senator Sergio Osmeña 3rd filed a petition before the Supreme Court for a writ of kalikasan to compel the NSWMC to abide by the law and release the NEAP list.

We wholeheartedly support that initiative, but it shouldn't have to come to that; Supreme Court intervention to force agencies to do the jobs they are mandated by law to do is a terribly inefficient way to manage a country. Recently appointed Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga can and should make good use of her new authority, and order the immediate release of the long and unnecessarily delayed NEAP list.