PHILIPPINE based environmentalists, civil society groups and labor organizations on Monday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to nudge the Senate from its “slumber” and to immediately ratify the Minamata Convention, a landmark agreement on mercury disposal.
In an urgent letter, over 100 environment, health and labor rights advocates noted that despite the Philippines active participation during the three-year negotiations (2010-2013) that led to the Minamata Convention and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources’ signing of the convention protocols in 2013, the Senate has yet to ratify the agreement, which is already set to take effect on August 16 (Wednesday).
The advocates pleaded to Duterte and concerned government agencies to secure the Senate’s immediate concurrence on the global agreement to combat mercury pollution prior to the first conference of the convention signatories on September 24 to 29 in Geneva, Switzerland, so the Philippines could attend it as a State Party and not a mere observer.
“We owe it to the people of Minamata, the Japanese city after whom the agreement was named, and to the Filipino people to ensure that the convention is ratified and enforced to protect public health and the environment against mercury pollution,” said Eileen Sison, EcoWaste Coalition president.
Minamata suffered heavily from decades-long dumping of mercury-tainted industrial wastewater from Chisso chemical factory into the Minamata Bay, poisoning the fish that people ate and leading to crippling illnesses known today as the Minamata disease.
According to an internet open source Wikipedia: “Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetuses in the womb.”
“Ratifying the Minamata Convention on Mercury will further strengthen our nation’s efforts to prevent, if not eliminate, threats of mercury pollution as this will allow the Philippines to effectively engage in the treaty processes, address gaps in existing regulations, and gain access to financial resources and beneficial technology transfer and capacity-building opportunities,” Sison explained.
She also cited the country’s pursuit of progressive policies and programs to address mercury pollution, including phasing out mercury-based medical devices in 2010 (DOH A.O. 2008-21), banning mercury use in mineral processing in artisanal and small-scale gold mining in 2012 (E.O. 79-2012), introducing extended producer responsibility for lighting products containing mercury in 2013 (Joint DENR-DOE A.O. 2013-09-0001),and prohibiting over 135 mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics since 2010 to date (various FDA advisories).
To date, 74 governments have ratified the convention but none of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), currently chaired by the Philippines, has ratified the agreement.
According to the Ratification Dossier prepared by the DENR with assistance from the Swiss Confederation and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, “the existing policies, programs and regulations have, to some degree, prepared the Philippines in terms of fulfilling the requirements of the Convention.”
“Despite the economic cost to comply with the provisions of the Convention, the long-term benefits of becoming a Party far outweigh the disadvantages,” the dossier said, stressing that “the Convention is consistent with the country’s basic policy to protect and preserve the right to health of Filipinos and the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology,” it added.
Highlights of the treaty include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
In line with Executive Order 459, Series of 1997, the DENR shall endorse the treaty to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which shall then transmit it to the President for his ratification. Upon ratification, the DFA shall then submit the treaty to the Senate for concurrence.
While other key agencies like the Departments of Health, Labor and Employment, Science and Technology and Trade Industry have agreed to the treaty ratification, the DoE has yet to provide the DENR with its Certificate of Concurrence.
Among the groups who signed the letter to President Duterte and other concerned government parties were the Alyansa Tigil Mina, Arugaan, Associated Labor Unions, Bangon Kalikasan Movement, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, Cavite Green Coalition, Center for Environmental Concerns, Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Green Convergence, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Health Care Without Harm, Interface Development Interventions, Inc., International Association of Oral Medicine & Toxicology, IPEN, Miriam College Environmental Studies Institute, Mother Earth Foundation, Oceana Philippines, Palawan NGO Network Inc., Pesticide Action Network, Public Services Independent Labor Confederation, Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, Teachers Dignity Coalition, The Climate Reality Project Philippines, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zero Waste Recycling Movement of the Philippine Foundation, Inc.