Asbestos Action in the Philippines
During April 2008, calls for asbestos to be banned were made by trade unionists, engineers and homeowners throughout the Philippines. The Associated Labour Unions (ALU-TUCP), affiliated to the global labor federation: the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), reiterated its call for a national ban during activities held to mark International Workers' Memorial Day (April 28, 2008). In the morning, union leaders were joined by a 100 workers for the unveiling in downtown Quezon City of a huge billboard calling for an asbestos ban. Speaking at this event Francis Valois, ALU's Operation's Officer, highlighted the need to address: the gaps in asbestos monitoring and enforcement, the lack of adequate medical treatment and the continuing importation of asbestos into the country.
During the afternoon asbestos workshop, the progress of Senator Miriam Santiago's Bill on the Banning of Asbestos was discussed; other parallel workshops focused on HIV and AIDS and the Labour Standards Enforcement Framework. Reiterating the asbestos theme of IWMD 2008, the final activity on April 28 brought all the delegates together for a symbolic signing of the Ban Asbestos Now Mural! 1
Although asbestos use in the Philippines is relatively small compared to that elsewhere in the region, thousands of tonnes are still being brought into the country every year. According to data from the United States Geological Survey, asbestos imports were 2453 tonnes (2003), 2799 tonnes (2005) and 4136 tonnes (2006). At the same time as the use is on the rise, increasing awareness of the asbestos hazard is fuelling the search for asbestos-free solutions. Engineer Bow Moreno, of Bow C. Moreno Construction,2 has developed a steel building system which can deliver a 72 square-meter, 24 foot-high two-story townhouse with spacious attic in just 12 days and for less than P680,000 ($16,065). In a description of the building process, engineer Moreno notes: unlike all other locally produced fiber cement boards, HardiFlex does not contain carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos fiber or asbestos that can endanger the health of the workers and the household.3
Filipino consumers are demanding that their public services be delivered free of contamination by asbestos. The Homeowners Welfare Advisory Group (HWAG) from Paranaque City is insisting that old asbestos pipes at their homes be replaced by safer alternatives; in correspondence with Maynilad Water Services Inc., their new water provider, the HWAG pointed out: asbestos pipes contain carcinogens that can cause cancer and contaminate clothes, the air and water used for washing and drinking.4 With increasing support from civil society for a national ban, there is cause for some optimism about the likely success of Senator Santiago's Bill 741: An Act Banning the Importation, Manufacture, Processing, or Distribution in Commerce of Asbestos Containing Products.5 Should the Bill be adopted, the Philippines will become the 3rd country in the region to take active steps to protect its citizens from the asbestos scourge.
May 2, 2008
1 BWI Press Release. IWMD Commemoration Events in the Asia/Pacific Region. Received from Fiona Murie. May 2, 2008.
3 Buban CE. Filipino Innovates, Promotes Value Engineering. April 11, 2008. Philippine Daily Enquirer.
4 Aurelio J. M. Out with Asbestos Pipes, Homeowners Tell Water Agency. April 30, 2008. Philippine Daily Enquirer. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/metro/view_article.php?article_id=133548