PH signs Minamata Convention, gains UN praise

KUMAMOTO, Japan, (PNA) — With full powers from President Benigno Aquino III, environment secretary Ramon J.P. Paje signed for the Philippines, at the on-going UN Conference on Mercury here, the historic Minamata Convention.

The Minamata Convention, which was signed by heads of States and ministers of the environment and foreign affairs, is a globally binding instrument that prescribes the regulation of mercury among member-States.

The Convention also enjoins the parties to identify sources, uses applications of mercury, including unintended releases to the environment, and develop action plans for reduction of use and eventual phase-out of mercury.

UNEP in Geneva commended the Philippines and President Aquino for its achievements on mercury programs which were presented during the conference.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) banned use of mercury in mineral processing, particularly in small-scale mining, pursuant to EO 79 issued by President Aquino as early as July 2012 – more than a year before the convention.

The Department of Health (DoH) also targets mercury-free healthcare facilities in the Philippines by the end of 2016.

The Philippine National Action Plan, including its implementing agencies and timelines, is available at the UNEP website.

Elated by the Philippine performance, UNEP Geneva Chemicals Branch’s head Tim Kasten and deputy head David Piper expressed pride in having been given the opportunity to assist the Philippines in implementing its mercury-related projects.

“Mercury is highly toxic as it damages the brain, kidneys, lungs, heart and gastrointestinal tract. The brain may be severely damaged as it may cause tremors, numbness, weakness, motor incoordination and convulsion,” Paje said.

“The Philippines should learn from the Minamata incident and be more strict in regulating toxic substances and hazardous wastes,” he noted.

The Minimata Mercury incident was caused by discharge of wastewater with high concentration of highly toxic methyl mercury into the Minamata Bay.

The methyl mercury was taken in by fish and shellfish which, in turn, were consumed by local people over a long period of time until the tragic Minamata disease was discovered and recognized.

The Philippines is instrumental in crafting the Minamata Convention.

Assisted by hazardous waste expert Gerry Sañez, DENR-Environmental Management Bureau director Juan Miguel Cuna co-chairs the Partnership Advisory Group under the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, one of the core mechanisms for delivering immediate action on mercury.