Can a project for monitoring air pollution turn out to be as dirty as the air it is supposed to monitor? This is the question provoked by the DENR’s Air Monitoring Network Project, for which the government agency has been paying a contractor, through a foreign loan, to set up, maintain, and operate 10 air quality monitoring stations in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Can a project for monitoring air pollution turn out to be as dirty as the air it is supposed to monitor?
This is the question provoked by the Air Monitoring Network Project (AMNP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), for which the government agency has been paying a contractor, through a foreign loan, to set up, maintain, and operate 10 air quality monitoring stations in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Based on a 2005 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Metro Manila ranks among the urban areas in the world with the most polluted air — next only to Mexico City, Shanghai, and New Delhi. Metro Manila, the country’s National Capital Region (NCR), had been climbing the air pollution charts for the few years previous to 2005.
This is the situation that the Metro Manila Air Quality Improvement Sector Development Program (MMAQISDP) was supposed to mitigate. Funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to the tune of $623.36 million, the MMAQISDP was supposed to be implemented from December 1998 to December 2006 in support of the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1999.
The AMNP is part of the MMAQISDP and is funded by ADB Loan No. 1665 aiming to set up, operate, and maintain a network of 10 air monitoring stations around the Metro Manila airshed, which includes Pampanga, Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas.
The ten stations are located in the following areas: Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Road, Quezon City; Bureau of Broadcasting Services, Marulas, Valenzuela City; Clark Air Field, San Fernando City, Pampanga; Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Sta. Mesa, Manila; Cavite State University, Indang; Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City; Bureau of Plant Industry, Los Banos, Laguna; Provincial Veterinary Office, Batangas City; New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City; and Valle Verde Subdivision, Pasig City (mobile van). These stations are expected to measure criteria air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter and total suspended solids; as well as non-criteria pollutants like benzene, toluene, and xylene (henceforth to be referred to in combination as BTX).
The AMNP can be traced all the way to November 2000, when the DENR called for tenders in the repair and upgrading of the ten stations. The only responsive bidder was ETI-IMACH, a joint venture between Emission Technology, Inc. (ETI), a Guam-based U.S. company; and its local partner, Industramach, Inc. (IMACH), an accredited equipment supplier of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).
On Nov. 26, 2002, then Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez signed a contract with ETI-IMACH for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the ten stations with full concurrence from the DENR and the ADB. The operation and maintenance of the ten stations by ETI-IMACH began in October 2003 and was to have ended on December 31, 2006.
The project also entailed the involvement of a quality assistance or quality control consultant to ensure that all information produced by the air monitoring network meets quality standards. The DENR executed a contract with Maunsell Hongkong, Ltd. on April 13, 2004.
“It turned out to be a dirty and expensive environmental failure,” saidx Celemente Bautista Jr., chairman of the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE), in an interview. “It didn’t serve its purpose.”
From November 2003 to October 2004, the DENR paid ETI-IMACH $64,198.07 monthly for operations and maintenance. ETI-IMACH received the payments even at times when not all 10 stations were operating simultaneously.
ETI reported certain deficiencies in the Quality Assurance Project Plan to the DENR in October 2004. The next month, payment for the operation and maintenance of the stations was suspended over technical and contractual issues. On Dec. 22 that same year, Undersecretary for Forestry and Environment Ramon Paje and the EMB issued a memorandum suspending payments to ETI and Maunsell for inadequate performance of the consultants.
One of the bigger problems to crop up was what would be seen as ETI’s use of unreliable equipment.
On Feb. 14, 2005, the EMB met with ETI-IMACH to discuss issues related to ETI’s contractual obligations. Among the issues discussed were delays in project implementation.
“The reason of ETI for the delay in the operation of the BTX analyzers in all stations which was the delayed site acquisition, was not accepted by the EMB,” wrote Jean N. Rosete of the MMAQISDP in the minutes of the Feb. 14, 2005 meeting which she prepared. “It was pointed out by EMB that it is more of (a) technology problem (BTX AIM analyzers). Hence, the ETI was requested to get a certification for verification from the manufacturer…”
Among those listed in the minutes of the meeting as having been in attendance was Rep. Edcel Lagman.
That same day, IMACH withdrew as ETI’s local partner, citing among others what IMACH managing director Eduardo Mendoza described as ETI’s use of “ineffective” equipment.
Wrote Mendoza in a letter to then Environment Secretary Mike Defensor:
Invoking its supposed reputation as an equipment expert, ETI recommended the use of Air Instrument Measurement Open-path Analyzer to measure Benzene, Toluene and Xylene (BTX) in ambient air. Despite information that AIM analyzer is still in its developmental stage, ETI made Industramach and EMB believe that this equipment is already a developed and recognized ambient monitor. Unfortunately, ETI has failed to provide for the requested documentation by EMB to prove that this AIM analyzer is no longer in its developmental stage.
Moreover, the AIM analyzer has proven to be ineffective to measure the BTX parameters over a short open path length of ten (10) meters which was ETI’s biggest selling point for the approval of the equipment. Initial tests conducted of the analyzer installed at the Ateneo station could not provide quality BTX data. To make this analyzer unit work, our Filipino Instrumentation Specialists had to modify some of its hardware and totally its software, which proved to be expensive to (set up) and operate.
The BTX analyzers cost almost $1 million.
Mendoza also cited ETI’s alleged non-compliance with contractual obligations, as well as employment of “unqualified and unprofessional” personnel.
These issues prompted several reviews and inspections. The contractual and technical issues raised against ETI, however, remained unsolved, leading Usec. Armando de Castro to issue, on October 7, 2005, a final demand letter instructing ETI to comply with the contract.
ETI has refused to comply with the DENR’s final demand letter.
Lagman and the ADB have also pressured the DENR to continue the project.
In the minutes of a Sept. 15, 2005 between the DENR, ETI, and Maunsell, Lagman was cited as having expressed his intention to mediate between ETI and the EMB regarding financial issues of the contract; even as the legal aspect of his involvement had been passed on to his son Atty. Edcel Lagman Jr., based on an April 28, 2005 letter from the Lagman, Lagman and Mones Law Firm.
The ADB went to the extent of endorsing ETI, and commissioning Mr. Gordon Jones to conduct an evaluation from Sept. 27 to 29, 2005. Jones concluded that all monitoring stations are producing data in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards.
On Nov. 11, 2005, Shihiru Date, an ADB transport specialist, wrote to Defensor saying that since Jones had completed his tasks the contractual issues related to the project had already been addressed. “Given the agreement reached, the progress made, and the assessment provided by USEPA, we would not see any reason at this stage to further delay the payment related to ETI’s work since November 2004,” wrote Giraud.
After evaluating the Jones report later that month, Undersecretary de Castro wrote on behalf of the EMB to Patrick Giraud, Director of the Infrastructure Division of the ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, saying that the DENR could not possibly agree with Date’s recommendations since ETI had yet to comply with the technical and contruactual issues and the resolution of contractual issues is “outside Jones’ competence.”
ETI once more refused to comply. On Dec. 7, 2005, ETI submitted a monthly report advising the DENR that various network stations are to be brought off-line and the network is degrading for lack of operational resources, as a result of “delinquency in payment.”
In 2006, the EMB made several recommendations for the termination of the project. This was concurred with by Atty. Armi Jane Roa Borje, officer-in-charge for the DENR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs, in a Nov. 24, 2006 memorandum for then Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes.
On Dec. 14, 2006, ETI president Robert Wilson wrote to EMB director Ely Anthony Ouano, emphasizing the agreement forged the day before “in the presence and with the conformity of Sec. Angelo Reyes,” stipulating that the DENR-EMB shall immediately pay ETI in full the amount of $1.03 million corresponding to the billings of November 2004-February 2006.
“It is very illogical for the DENR secretary to pursue this project without considering the position of his officials, without considering the position of IMACH, one of the contractors, and without considering the country’s experience in the three years of the project,” Bautista told Bulatlat.
“There could be something dirty going on there,” the KPNE chairman added. “There could be corruption behind that.” (Bulatlat.com)