Environmental group Greenpeace has welcomed recent government moves to address water pollution in the country, but said more must be done to save polluted bodies of water.
Last week, the Environment Department designated an important river system in Mindanao as a water quality management area (WQMA).
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said designating the 35-kilometer Taguibo River in Agusan del Norte province as a WQMA aims to protect the waterway from further damage as a result of development.
Paje said WQMA designation is an important tool in protecting water quality in river systems that are essential for livelihoods and public health.
The Environment Department has declared seven bodies of water as WQMAs. These are the Sinocalan-Dagupan river system in Pangasinan, the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system and areas within the Laguna Lake Development Authority’s jurisdiction in Luzon, the Tigum-Aganan watershed and the Iloilo-Batiano river system in the Visayas, and the Silway River and the Sarangani Bay in Mindanao.
“Access to clean water is a fundamental human right and it is the duty of the government to guarantee this," Paje said, adding that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is among the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals.
Water pollution is one of the biggest problems affecting the Philippines. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says at least 50 of the country’s 421 rivers are considered "biologically dead."
Biologically dead rivers no longer contain sufficient oxygen to support any but the hardiest kinds of life forms.
But in a statement issued on Wednesday, Greenpeace said "bigger steps in pollution prevention" are necessary if the government is serious in fulfilling its mandate to keep waterways clean.
In the statement, Abi Aguilar, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, called on the government to implement pollution disclosure for companies that dump waste and by-products in bodies of water.
Greenpeace has long called for a Pollution Release and Transfer Register that would also give communities and other stakeholders the right to access information about pollutants.
Similar measures have been instrumental in preventing pollution in countries such as Japan, Australia and Canada.
The Philippines, however, has no accurate data on what chemical factories are discharging into rivers and lakes.
"Communities living around these bodies of water suffer because they do not know what chemicals are present in their locality, and how their water supply is slowly being contaminated," Greenpeace said.