SENATOR Manny Villar said Monday that the people deserve better air quality this coming year as he pressed his colleagues in Congress to come up with a legislation that would institutionalize on a nationwide scale a "green transport policy" in light of the worsening level of air pollution in the country.

"What better way to start off the New Year than to assure our fellowmen that we as legislators are doing something to improve the air quality in our cities," he said.

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He noted that the alarming levels of air pollution in the cities are not only slowly killing millions of Filipinos, but also cost the country's economy billions of pesos in productivity losses and health care expenses.

Villar cited that vehicle emission is one of the top contributors to air pollution.

"This is why we should institutionalize an environmentally-sound and feasible legislative policy that would govern the transportation sector to minimize if not eradicate vehicular emissions," he stressed.

In his Resolution 1501 filed late 2009, which urged the Senate Committees on Environment and on Public Services, Villar proposed for the conduct of a study on the need to come up with a Green Transport Policy.

Among his proposals include, but are not limited to, the promotion and construction of bicycle lanes and parking slots; the establishment of additional road traffic safety zones; and a stricter enforcement of traffic laws.

"Some cities, especially in Metro Manila, already have bicycle lanes to promote an emission-less lifestyle. Congress can compel cities and other urban areas to do the same as a matter of national policy," Villar said.

"And we have laws, like the Clean Air Act, that if implemented properly will greatly help reduce air pollution, like strictly applying emission standards and imposing the right penalties for violators," said Villar.

He further noted that according to a recent World Bank (WB) country environmental analysis (CEA), around 1.5 million Filipinos of varying ages are afflicted with respiratory sickness annually due to outdoor air pollution (OAP) in urban areas.

Villar also noted that the World Health Organization ranks urban outdoor air pollution as the 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide.

Likewise, the WB report on the Philippines indicates that air pollution-related illnesses alone are costing the economy P950 million annually, including productivity loss which is income and time loss due to absence from work and household activities, and P360 million for personal costs for treatment of disease.

"A Green Transport Policy also covers increased investments in mass transport systems which would greatly ease the use of private vehicles in urban areas," Villar said.

Meanwhile, Villar called on owners of private vehicles, particularly that of motorcycles and tricycles, to practice preventive maintenance in order to reduce emissions.

Per report, motorcycles and tricycles have outnumbered private cars as the second-largest group of vehicles on Philippine roads after public utility vehicles since 1994. Also, 2001 figures place the said vehicle class of comprising 35 percent of the registered vehicles in that year, while cars only accounted for 19 percent, a report said.

Green advocacy

Vice presidential bet Senator Loren Legarda said she would take a more active role in pushing her advocacy for climate change adaptation and more green technology with the advent of the New Year.

Legarda said she would pursue her climate change advocacy "more passionately and bring it to the grassroots to show how it directly affects food and hunger" adding that she would also "try to convince business and industry to adopt green technology."

She added: "With a year of difficult crises and challenges behind us now, we embark anew not only on another calendar year but also on a new decade that could be the most daunting ever to humanity."

She also urged world leaders to "transcend territorial boundaries and unite to save the environment and protect the poor who suffer most from its destruction."

The industrialized nations should lead major progress on clean energy and climate protection and to provide the most vulnerable populations the resources and means to avoid, minimize and cope with the impact of the changing climate, she said.

The senator also called on national leaders to "accelerate action to improve urban governance, enhance rural livelihood and protect ecosystems to arrest the vicious cycle of disasters and poverty."