The biggest killers of Filipinos: Fossil fuels and vehicles

July 8, 2024

The reliance of the world economy on the burning of fossil fuels, oil, and gas continues to drive up global temperatures. The sweltering heat of the past three months is just a small indication of what it will be like in the years to come. Every year is hotter than the year previously. We are not going to keep the increase in world temperature below 1.5 degrees at the present consumption of fossil fuels.

That means we have to be ready for more powerful destructive typhoons, droughts, and health problems and many Filipinos will meet an early death from heat and pollution-caused diseases. The hotter the temperature, the greater the demand for electricity to drive air conditioners and electric appliances. That means more burning of fossil fuel to meet the demand. Global warming itself is caused by the non-stop burning of fossil fuels for the past hundred years. That is the cause of many serious health problems leading to death.

The Philippine economy will likely grow. That means more investment and more power generation but there are serious costs. The Philippines is 77 percent dependent on coal-fired power plants and despite government policies and low taxes for renewables, the nation is far behind in replacing the coal and oil power plants with renewables. The only way to wean the power companies off coal, oil, and gas addiction is to give an additional massive tax cut for every new solar, wind, or geothermal power plant raising taxes on coal and oil, and setting a 10-year deadline for their phase out.

Some government officials and power companies have made glowing statements and announced policies and commitments to promote renewables as a priority yet they are not phasing out coal plants or passing legislation to do so within a short time frame. The power companies seem to be addicted to fossil fuels and pay lip service to renewables. The actual implementation of renewables is far from reality.

The government bureaucracy and alleged corrupt practices by which permits and licenses for the importation of equipment, land acquisition, power lines, tower construction, and so on are suffering endless delays. Are some officials waiting for bigger gifts? Every delaying tactic seems to be deployed to make the renewable corporations pay more under the table. This is what is slowing down the development of renewables like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro-electric power plant projects. In Zambales, for example, ACEN- a subsidiary of Ayala- and Aboitiz, are one year trying to erect towers and attach power lines in Zambales for their solar power plant projects.

The government officials playing these dirty games abusing their authority and failing to serve the people do not understand that it is very dangerous for corporations to pay bribes. They are under international scrutiny and surveillance. They will be fined millions of dollars if they are caught. Also, where will the corporation source the “facilitation” money from and account for it? All that takes a long time and secret negotiations and clever strategies to make the payment or not. The corporations say they never make such payments. The coal-fired power plants and the automobile industry that dominate the transport sector cause great global warming every day. They also cause death-dealing pollution. The industrial emissions poison the air with millions of microchemical pollutants suspended in the air that we breathe. Nationwide, they are the cause of 3.6 percent of deaths in the Philippines.

The chemically toxic particles that float in the air cause chronic lower respiratory diseases like pneumonia, whooping cough, bronchitis, and many more. A report says “that in 2019, air pollution from coal power production alone resulted in 630 deaths, 1,300 new cases of childhood asthma, 149,000 missed days of work, and an annual cost of US$165 million to the Philippine economy.”

These pollutants can affect the blood and that in turn, among many other reasons, can cause cancer, heart diseases, and heart attacks. These conditions kill 17 percent of Filipinos every year. All due to the coal-fired electric generation power plants that we rely on. They have to be replaced sooner than later. They have been killing thousands of people over the years.

The quality of life has decreased because of the overcrowding in the cities where transportation is mostly by automobile. The vehicles on the roads are another dangerous source of death-causing pollution. The microparticles from vehicles contribute to the death toll.

The ballyhooed introduction of big tax cuts for the promised electric car industry has apparently fizzled out. Allegedly, the Philippine automobile industry and the oil industry like Petron, Shell, and others lobby the government to prevent the importation of low-cost quality Chinese electric cars. They would quickly dominate the market.

These corporations may also use their influence to campaign against legislation mandating gas stations to install solar-powered electric car recharging stations. The availability of low-cost electric cars and trucks and charging stations everywhere would revolutionize the Philippine transportation industry. We would have a clean, pollution-free, and people-friendly environment and a peaceful, noiseless transport system beneficial to society. Since President Ferdinand Marcos had control of Congress, he could break the cartel and save the Filipinos from the curse of coal and car pollution.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. 

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