09 March 2014

Green Groups Urge DENR, DFA to Work for Expedited Senate Ratification of the Mercury Treaty


Environmental health and justice groups  are urging the government to expedite the ratification of a global treaty that seeks to reduce mercury emissions and releases in the  Philippines and across the planet.

At the simultaneous meetings of its General Assembly last Friday in  Quezon City, Cebu City and Davao City, the EcoWaste Coalition unanimously adopted a resolution urging the government to immediately initiate a process leading to the eventual ratification of the  Minamata Convention on Mercury by the Senate.

"We particularly urge the Department of Environment and Natural  Resources (DENR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to jointly work for the expedited ratification of the treaty by our  senators," said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste  Coalition.

The Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of  products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

"Despite its limitations, the treaty signifies a global agreement that  action is required to minimize, if not eliminate, mercury emissions and releases from human activities.  Its expedited ratification and
implementation will be beneficial to public health and the  environment," Lucero pointed out.

"We likewise urge the government to learn and apply the lessons from  the Minamata mercury tragedy, including the necessity of applying the precautionary principle, to prevent the mercury poisoning of our communities and peoples," she added.

According to the groups, the Convention will not reach its potential  unless it comes into force and, along with it, the financial resources, capacity building, technical assistance and technology
transfer needed by developing countries like the Philippines to  effectively implement it.

The groups further urged the government to strengthen existing  programs and initiate new ones to curb mercury pollution even before it is ratified and comes into force with the ratification of at least
50 countries.

Also, the DENR was requested to embark on a consultative process to  update and fortify the Chemical Control Order for Mercury and Mercury Compounds it promulgated in 1997 with stronger mercury prevention and reduction provisions.

The DENR was likewise urged to lead the multi-stakeholder process to  identify national mercury pollution sources and the corresponding plans to address them, including ensuring the environmentally-sound management of mercury-containing waste, their collection, storage,
treatment and disposal, and banning mercury imports.

Such process should lead to the creation of a multi-stakeholder  coordinating body that will ensure that policies and actions on various mercury pollution sources make sense, synchronized, and
efficient.

In addition, Ban Toxics called for the coordinated action by the DENR,  Department of Interior and Local Government and the Bureau of Customs to put an end to the decades long illegal mercury trade that is causing massive mercury contamination in the countryside because of  its rampant use in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector.

"Unless the burgeoning illegal mercury trade is stopped at the ports  and points of distribution, efforts to eliminate mercury use in the sector by government agencies and concerned stakeholders will continue to be undermined," said Atty. Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director,  Ban Toxics.

It further suggested that the government  immediately conducts regular  monitoring of possible mercury hotspots, bio-monitors exposed populations to mercury contamination, and monitors mercury levels in seafood and to share the results of their monitoring through effective  and far-reaching advisories prioritizing sensitive populations, such as children, women of child-bearing age, and coastal communities.

The treaty text was adopted in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013 and  was formally signed at a diplomatic conference in Kumamoto, Japan in October 2013.

DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje signed  the Convention on behalf of the  Government of the Philippines.  The treaty has since been signed by 96 countries, including the European Union.

The United States of America became the first country to ratify the  treaty in November 2013.  To enter into force, a minimum of 50 countries have to ratify it.

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