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February 8, 2019


I was in Vietnam to enjoy the food and cold weather recently but was greeted with a haze much like Beijing and Chongqing when I visited those places some years back.

“It’s so bad (that) our children cannot be sent out for outdoor play,” says a friend who is a pre-school teacher. Hey, if it’s bad for kids, it’s probably also bad for us!

Add to this recipe of bad air are motorcycles and cars that are part of the city landscape. Motorbikes are standard fare in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and many other parts of Vietnam. In northern Buon Ma Thout, it is a status symbol. Coffee farmers are considered successful once they are able to buy a motorbike.

Since then, I was careful to walk during the early mornings, as the haze was very bad earlier in the day. As the sun warms the atmosphere, it does clear out a bit.

I was so conscious of the bad air that I shopped around for an air cleaner when I returned home. And you will be surprised that technology has developed  machines that clean haze, dust, smoke, and many other irritants we sometimes ignore but irritate us anyway. We think we are getting sick because of a virus or something we ate, but in truth we are getting sick because of bad air quality. I never thought the day would come when we would need air cleaners!

It is not enough to mask odors with the now trending essential oils or room sprays. We all have to be conscious of what clean air is. Clean air actually has no smell (or maybe some pine smell if you’re in Baguio or Bukidnon). But, guess what? Even Baguio or nearby Benguet province has its pollution, too. Not motorcycles, not smoke, but chicken dung! It is so bad you have to roll up your windows and turn on the air conditioner. The town of Tublay, where we were doing work with local communities, has become the “staging “area for dumping, storing, and warehousing (in open lots by the roadside) of sacks upon sacks of chicken dung. Why does it smell? I don’t know but it may be what the chicken ate. Then, we eat that chicken! Horrors! We are what they eat, remember that.

Halsema Highway

Oh this new obsession with clean air! It is quite a challenge to avoid smoke but with the smoking ban in malls and even outdoor areas in Makati for example, is a welcome development. But what about chicken dung? It is worse than tobacco smoke as far as I’m concerned. It smells acrid and so chemical-like, as though being in a torture chamber in the open air!

How do we measure air pollution? It’s not just cars or motorcycles. It’s not just cigarette smoking (even cigars for that matter). It is what we allow our air to become. Sadly, the Tublay locals are helpless because the lot owners of these “staging areas” are private individuals. I think they should be made to stay in their lots to inhale all that bad air!

My friend in the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Eddie Yap, measures air pollution in the main thoroughfares like EDSA and Ayala Avenue. I dare and plead to Eddie to measure the air pollution in Baguio’s Session Road and now in the outskirts of Tublay, Benguet. It is just 20 kilometers from Baguio.

How do we clean our air? After cleaning Boracay and Manila Bay, is it the DENR, the DOH, or Eddie Yap who will clean our air?

Sometimes we all have to do something more than wear a mask so our whole country will be a pleasure to breathe in and out of.

Inhale… exhale… or just exhale for now.



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