PHILIPPINE ENVIRONMENTALIST welcomed a global report on environmental policies as World Research Institute and The Access Initiative (TAI) launched the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI) in Washington, DC on May 20, 2015, 9:30 EDT.

Environmental Democracy Index is the first online interactive public platform that tracks countries progress in establishing national laws to promote transparency, responsibility and citizen engagement in environmental decision making.

“This is really a milestone for environmentalists worldwide,” said Jaybee Garganera, National Coordinator of Ayansa Tigil Mina.

“With EDI readily available for the public, it will be easier to monitor each country’s environmental laws and their strength in  providing a substantial contribution in environmental development,” he added.

The index evaluates 70 countries across the globe based on the standards of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Bali Guidelines. The evaluation was done by more than 140 lawyers and experts in different parts of the world.

According to EDI, 65 out of the 70 countries that were evaluated enacted some legal provisions providing for rights to environmental information but 79% were found to have fair or poor public participation provision enshrined law.

Top ten countries based on EDI are Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, United State (tied), South Africa (tied), United Kingdom, Hungary, Bulgaria, Panama and Colombia.

Currently the Philippines got a 1.35 score in EDI, 3 being the highest.  Lithuania which ranked first in the list got 2.42.

EDI showed that the Philippines strong points are as follows:

Several environmental laws provide the public with the right to participate in decision making relating to the environment.

The rules of procedure for environmental cases give the public the right to challenge government decisions on environmental matters.

The public has broad standing to bring environmental claims and challenge decisions that violate rights or harm the environment.

There are legal mechanisms to ensure prompt and effective remedies in criminal, civil, and administrative cases.

However, EDI also mentioned the following areas as points of improvement:

The government is not required to make environmental information proactively available to the public.

Most laws do not require opportunities for public participation to be provided at an early stage in the decision making process.

The law specifies many grounds on which environmental information may be refused.

Filipino laws do not mandate that government authorities collect information on forests and water.

In practice, air quality data for Manila are not made available to the public online.

In EDI’s evaluation, the Philippines lack provisions in transparency and information availability, which according to Garganera would have been useful for organizations and communities when engaging in environmental concerns.

“On the ground, this inadequacy in policy for transparency has affected communities, in a way that they are often blindsided. This happened when the government lifted the suspension orders of four (4) mining companies in Zambales, when they reinstated Intex’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) in Mindoro and in Tampakan when NCIP Regions XI and XII conducted a consultation and assemblies despite the resistance of Blaan indigenous communities against the mining project owned by Glencore.

“EDI can be a mechanism to pressure the government to improve and properly implement environmental and human rights provisions of our laws. Especially, when the extractive industry is concerned where environmental, social, cultural and economic injustices are rampant,” he concluded.