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Get Up, Green Up: Speech at the 8th Building Green Conference

25 September 2014

20140925 Philippine Green Building Council 8th Building Green Conference

Thank you for inviting me to join the green building advocates of the country in this Building Green Conference, in order to update you on the status of legislative initiatives on green building that are pending before the Senate.

For the information of everybody, as early as 2012, during the 15th Congress, I authored a bill seeking to mandate a national green building code, and to set up a rating and certification system, as well as incentive schemes, not only for the purpose of integrating minimum standards of “green building” into our national building legislation, but also of promoting and encouraging “beyond code” compliance and innovative but consistent practices.

But it just so happened that during the last Congress, the Committee on Public Works, to which such bill was referred, did not take up this bill and the other related ones. Had these bills been referred to the Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement, which I then chaired, I could have sooner opened the debates and deliberations on these bills.

By some stroke of serendipity, however, when 16th Congress opened in 2013, I was assigned the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Public Works, and suddenly, the fate of my own version of the green building bill and other related green building bills fell on my lap.

So now, as we speak, we have so far already held a couple of hearings on these bills, wherein crucial and important stakeholders, including the PhilGBC, have been very active contributing to the lively and informative debate. I am very fortunate enough to be leading the discussions, as they opened my mind to a lot of things, not only in the field of green building, but also on its impact on local governance, which is very close to my heart, considering that it is one of my Committee chairmanships in the Senate and is a big part of my legislative agenda, having previously served as a local executive in my home province of Ilocos Norte for several years.

And I thank all our green building advocates, our building professionals, public works and local officials, business people, members of relevant professional organizations, members of the academe, and other stakeholders, for their expert opinions and technical suggestions in developing and crafting a meaningful and relevant green building legislation for our country. And since in this whole healthy process, we also attempt to address certain organizational inadequacies and inefficiencies in our government, all these efforts of ours in this exercise most certainly contribute in a significant way to our nation-building.

For example, first and foremost, the hearings confirmed the need for making our green building standards in the level of a national law, not only for the sake of uniformity and general application, but also to rein in and guide the local government units as to the minimum parameters and standards of green building for the country.

The modality of enacting our proposed green building legislation was also lengthily discussed. Should we approach it as a separate and independent law and venture to flesh out the minute technical details in the same law? Or should we do it by way of an amendment of the National Building Code, and allow instead the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) the leeway to work out the technical details, in consultation with DPWH Board of Consultants, the accredited professional organizations, and other key stakeholders?

The collective experience and expertise of the body, thrown into the melting pot of the Committee debates, yielded the consensus that it is more prudent to do it by way of amending the National Building Code, wherein we shall incorporate just the general mandate of “greening” our building practices, and leave to the DPWH the job of crafting the specific green building rules and regulations, whether in the form of a implementing rules and regulations (IRR) or in the form of a referral code. These are all viable and legitimate alternatives, according to the Department of Justice.

Through this approach, we would not be wasting the efforts of the DPWH, which has long been developing its draft Green Building Regulations, with the able assistance of its Board of Consultants and stakeholders. I was particularly pleased by this development, knowing that the DPWH is in touch with all concerned, and that everybody are talking to each other—as this does not happen especially in some important legislative efforts pending in the Senate today! Indeed, there are many important legislative initiatives that do not get resolved in Congress because of communication gap!

Some resource persons have advanced the view that if we were to make it a separate and independent law, we could be inflexibly tied to the fixed provisions of the law, and could be hard-pressed in timely instituting the necessary amendments in the future as may be demanded by the changing circumstances. And you know very well how things get done in Congress, especially in the Senate, where you would have to deal with 24 “Republics” in order to pass a law! Then, add to that another batch of two hundred-plus (200+) more Republics in the House of Representatives! Naku, naloko na! Kawawa naman ang ating green building initiatives! Naging “brown” na, dahil nabulok na at nalanta dahil napabayaan at hindi naaksyunan agad!

Whereas, if we make it as an amendment to the National Building Code, we not only put green building in its proper place, but we also take advantage of the institutional mechanism and consultative process that is made possible under the National Building Code. In the process, we also endow it with the feature of flexibility and adaptability to changes, whether environmental, social, economic or otherwise. So once enacted into law, magiging mas madali na lang ang mga adjustments. At DPWH na lang ang bahala, siyempre katuwang pa rin ang ating mga stakeholders.

And speaking of the Department of Public Works and Highways, we are aware that the DPWH would be the one charged with the enforcement and implementation of our green building legislation, pursuant to its legal mandate. However, as our present network of laws provides, in reality the task falls by default upon our local governments, in the person of the local engineer, who acts as the concurrent local building official under the Local Government Code.

Our deliberations unraveled manpower constraints besetting the local governments, particularly in the effective and efficient enforcement of the National Building Code by the local engineers doubling as local building officials. During our hearings, well-meaning local engineers have come forward and lamented the fact that they could not possibly juggle their functions as engineers under the Local Government Code, and their ex officio functions as building officials under the National Building Code, without much difficulty, as their duties and functions under the two laws are just too immense and multifarious—let alone time-consuming and physically taxing!

Hence, our green building discussions branched out to a parallel legislative move to mandate the appointment of a local building official, which shall be separate and distinct from the local engineer. If this happens, the local building official can solely focus its attention to the strict implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the National Building Code and our would-be green building legislation. It is about time that these matters are given the long-awaited focus and attention that they deserve, given that they affect not only life, health, and private property, but the environment and the public welfare as well!

Based on the present developments, we may need just one or two more hearings before we wrap up the deliberations, so that your Chairman of the Committee on Public Works can finally report out and submit its findings to the Senate body for its consideration.

All the efforts put in our green building discussions in the Senate have contributed to unraveling these important concerns, and I laud and thank the green building sector for their views and opinions. In fact, in my capacity as both the Chairman of the Committee on Public Works and as author of a green building bill, I heavily depend on this most important group of able and competent men and women in enriching the Committee discussions and polishing the draft bill.

And through this Building Green Conference, the green building sector, led by the Philippine Green Building Council, an effective forum is provided within the sector for the generation of new ideas and the development of the more controversial ones through healthy exchanges and debates, all calculated to propagate the beauty and benefits of green building.

The ideas, findings and recommendations—the collective wisdom—gained from this Conference would be of much use not only to the work being done by your Senate Committee on Public Works in the development of legislation, whether green building, local government or otherwise, but also for the information and education of the general public. So, I call upon PhilGBC to take the lead in sharing the institutional knowledge of the green building community to your Philippine Congress and to the Filipino people!

I mention this, because all of our efforts would be for naught if we fail to reach out to the public, who are our real target market, especially now that green building is still but a voluntary exercise and in the nascent stages in the public consciousness of the Filipino people.

This highlights the opportunity for these Building Green Conferences to serve as effective vehicles in educating, shaping and reshaping the public’s opinions, notions and conventional wisdom about the importance and urgency of building green, especially amidst the threat of global warming and climate change today.

For example, the best example that comes to mind is the very annoying debate about whether there is a need for green building at all. Some are of the view that this is but an unnecessary imposition upon the public, being just another “uso” or a latest craze in the building and construction industry.

But we know for a fact that it is not just a mere craze or “uso”. On the contrary, its urgency owes to the fact that global warming and climate change have been unleashing stronger and more catastrophic weather events upon our world and our communities. And considering the fact that the building sector alone accounts for 30-40% of global energy usage and global gas emissions, it is obviously an area where we can achieve huge gains in our avowed “deep and early cuts” climate change mitigation strategy.

In fact, just yesterday, I reported on the Senate floor the findings of the Committee on Public Works as regards the flood problem in Metro Manila, in time for the 5th anniversary of the onslaught of tropical storm Ondoy, which also coincides with the United Nations’ 2014 Climate Change Summit in New York City. And one of the policy recommendations of your Committee in the comprehensive and holistic approach to solving the flood problem in Metro Manila is the enactment of green building legislation, precisely in order to reverse our otherwise wasteful and imprudent building practices.

The issue of financial cost is another matter that can be subject of the green building community’s public awareness campaigns. Apparently, a considerable portion of our society—and some are even building professionals and other members of the building sector—still seems to be not yet sold on the idea of green building. They say that green building only raises the costs of building development.

Moreover, there is also the lingering but well-founded fear and apprehension in the building sector that green building is but another way for local government units to encumber even more the already cumbersome building permitting process, thus entailing additional and unnecessary costs.

In fact, just recently, we have been hearing sensational news about the alleged overpricing of a government building. And by way of defense against the allegations, the terms “world-class” and “green building” had been used, thereby implying that while “green building” indeed can be world-class, it can also be expensive—in fact, VERY EXPENSIVE!

Yes, indeed, “green building” can evoke feelings of elegance and class, which could instantly turn an awestruck observer green with envy. But to say that it is also very costly and expensive, smacks of sheer misinformation and ignorance. If I were a green building advocate—which I would like to believe I am—and were to hear such misguided opinions, instead of turning “green” with envy, I would turn “green” with anger a la the Incredible Hulk!

Kidding aside, we should all be seriously concerned about this, and we should exert all efforts in reversing the negative effects created by these implications, which are surely simmering in the minds of every Juan and Maria dela Cruz right now. If we let this mistaken notion solidly and with finality influence the minds of the general public, then all of the significant progress and gains that the green building community has worked so hard to build and achieve for the past several years would be rendered nugatory.

So to end, allow me then to reiterate my support for the proposed green building legislation in our country and also for the very strong and vocal green building community of the Philippines! With our mutual assistance, we can finally make this green building law a reality in the Philippines.

Consequently, this legislative effort will be instrumental not only in paving the way for more resource-efficient and environment-friendly buildings, and healthier and more livable communities, but also in ultimately supporting the opening of a new “green economy” in the Philippines that will certainly contribute to the prosperity of our nation and our fellow Filipinos!

Again, thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you here in your Building Green conference! It is truly an honor and privilege to be in the presence of such truly innovative and creative, and also socially- and environmentally-conscious, men and women of the Philippine green building community!

May God help the Philippines and the Filipino people from the scourges of global warming and climate change!

Mabuhay ang Philippine Green Building Council!

Mabuhay ang Philippine green building community, at ang ating mga green building advocates at mga environmentalists!

Mabuhay ang ating Inang Kalikasan!

Maraming, maraming salamat po!