How is the air quality in the Philippines?

The below article talks about air quality in the Philippines, the sources that contribute to these levels, practices that are enforced to address air pollution in the country, along with some frequently asked questions about the same. 

How is the air quality in the Philippines?

The Philippines experiences good air quality levels for the most part of the year with a few exceptions during seasonal changes, some primary sources from local stakeholders, contamination from the transboundary movement of pollutants, etc. Currently, the country is experiencing just moderate levels of air quality due to an increase in the concentration of particulate matter, particularly PM2.5. It is said to be 2.6 times higher than the global limits set by the WHO (IQAir, 2022 February 18). 

Air Quality in the Philippines 

The Philippines is a developing country that faces many socio-economic and developmental challenges. As is with developing countries around the world, it is quite often that the environment and nature’s balance is upset in return for expedited development and returns into the country. In spite of various measures taken by the Philippine state government, there still are concerns about how environmental protection has taken a backseat in the past few years in the country. Though the country has made significant strides in combatting air pollution, fact remains that the country still experiences moderately poor air quality in any given year, and on average, the particulate matter concentration (PM2.5) is more than two times higher than the limits set by the WHO (Sanlad L., 2020). 

According to a report produced by Greenpeace and CREA, thick smog that blanketed the capital city was an everyday phenomenon, until the state government implemented the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) following the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens experienced and saw significant improvements to air quality in the country as vehicular emissions and other anthropogenic sources of airborne contaminants came to a halt. In Metro Manila, stopping the 2.5 million vehicles dependent on fossil fuels during the lockdown created significant changes to the air within 10 days of enforcing the quarantine (Greenpeace, 2020). Prior to the quarantine, the data collected from the department of environment and natural resources in the country state that vehicular emissions contributed up to 65% of the country’s emissions, mostly originating from the capital city, Manila. 

With the enforcement of quarantine in Manila on March 16, 2020, particulate matter concentration was down by 180% since the start of the quarantine (Greenpeace, 2020). However, within 2 months, these restrictions were lifted and the country went right back to pre-quarantine levels of air quality. In fact, it is expected to increase with the projected growth for the country, plus accounting for the stagnation period during the lockdown. This would also be consistent with other projection data that show an increase in the number of vehicles in the country, moving from 6.6 million in 2010 to 24.8 million by 2030. The projection statistics would alone show that the socio-economic development of the country would significantly impact the country’s air quality levels.

Citizens of the Philippines have long been bearing the brunt of poor air quality. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it stands to reason that the effects seen amongst citizens of the country were exacerbated due to their already damaged pulmonary systems. A report released in February 2020 states that air pollution as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels had led to the premature deaths of 27,000 citizens of the country and this cost the country a loss of 1.9% of the annual GDP (Greenpeace, 2020). The state government was proven to be capable of changes when it set down the quarantine measures that improved the country’s air quality. Therefore, it is feasible to form a framework that addresses the country’s needs sustainably without impacting the environmental needs of the country. Below is a graph that depicts the changes to particulate matter emission levels in Manila between 2017 and 2020. 

Source: Greenpeace, 2020

Below is another graph that depicts the changes to particulate matter emissions in Manila on a monthly basis, comparing the values experienced in each month in 2019 and 2020. The graph would depict that there was a significant decrease in emissions of particulate matter in 2020, which shows that the country did make significant strides in reducing pollutant concentrations in one of the world’s largely polluted cities. 

Source: Greenpeace, 2020

It wasn’t just particulate matter concentrations that changed, data would show us that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide dropped by 52% in comparison to 2019 levels (Greenpeace, 2020). Further analysis of the data revealed a significant drop in the rates of transportation employed in the area to drop in different pollutant concentrations and was in fact some of the best days the area has experienced in terms of air quality in the past couple of years. 

In the first few weeks of the lockdown, the country started experiencing a decrease in concentrations of particulate matter between 19% to 54%, in comparison to the levels of the previous month (February 2020). Below is an image that depicts the changes observed in the country with respect to air pollution during the quarantine measures enforced. 

Source: Sabillo K., 2020

The above image would show that the areas shown had been significantly improving their air quality in the aftermath of the lockdown. As was previously mentioned, the state government of the country had taken several steps over the years to increase awareness about air pollution and air quality standards; below are some of the steps that were taken in terms of awareness campaigns, laws enforced, policy enforcements, strategic plans for development and protection, etc. (EANET, 2020)

  • The establishment of PM2.5 AQI.
  • Revising the guidelines on the Requirements for the Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS).
  • Creation and revision of guidelines on Oxygen Correction Factor for Stack Emission Test.
  • Creation and revision of guidelines on the Conduct of Stack Emission Testing of Tapering Stacks.
  • Creation and revision of guidelines on the Implementation of Online Permit to Operate.
  • The Policy Review and Update on Stationary Source Mass Emission Rate Standards (MERS).
  • Creation of an air quality management system data access object (AQMS DAO) on CCTV.
  • Creation and revision of guidelines on the Operationalization of the Air Quality Management Fund (AQMF).
  • Creation and revision of the Sitting Criteria of Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations.
  • Reviewing the Emission Standards for fuels and transport sector.
  • Reviewing the Guidelines on Airshed designation of attainment and non-attainment area.
  • The Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.
  • Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2013-13 – which establishes the Provisional National Ambient Air Quality Guideline
  • Country values and limits for PM2.5.
  • Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2015-04 – Implementation of Vehicle Emission Limits for EURO 4/IV, and In-Use Vehicle Emission Standards.
  • The Department Memorandum Circular (DMC) 2005-13 which states the guidelines for the Designation of Attainment and Non-attainment Areas in an Airshed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does the Philippines have good air quality levels?

Which cities experience the worst air quality in the Philippines currently?

Source: IQAir, 2022 February 18

1Navotas, National Capital Region65
2Batangas, Calabarzon59
3Mandaluyong, National Capital Region49
4Quezon City, National Capital Region41
5Antipolo, Calabarzon37
6Olongapo, Central Luzon37
7Pasig, National Capital Region37
8Davao City, Davao33
9Marikina, National Capital Region27
10Makati, National Capital Region25

Which cities experience the best air quality in the Philippines currently?

Source: IQAir, 2022 February 18

1Maycauayan, Central Luzon0
2Calamba, Calabarzon8
3Carmona, Calabarzon8
4Paranaque, National Capital Region8
5Taguig, National Capital Region15
6Bulacan, Central Luzon17
7Cavite City, Calabarzon17
8Rizal, Calabarzon17
9San Juan, National Capital Region17
10Silang, Calabarzon18

Other FAQs about Air quality that you may be interested in.

Can my workplace have poor air quality?


Can Air Pollution Make You Sick?


Acid Deposition Monitoring Network in East Asia (EANET). (2020). Philippines: Policies and practices concerning acid deposition. Factsheet. Viewed on 02-18-2022.  

Greenpeace. (2020). Special Report: Managing air quality beyond COVID-19. From ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ, air pollution rebounds with the return of transport and industry. In collaboration with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Viewed on 02-17-2022. 

International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers (IAMAT). (2020, April 16). Philippines General Health Risks: Air Pollution. Philippines. Viewed on 02-18-2022.,maximum%20of%2010%20%C2%B5g%2Fm3

IQAir. (2022, February 18). Air Quality in Manila. Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Manila. Viewed on 02-18-2022.  

IQAir. (2022, February 18). Air Quality in Philippines. Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Philippines. Viewed on 02-18-2022. 

IQAir. (2022, February 18). Real-time Philippines cleanest city ranking. Live AQI city ranking. Viewed on 02-18-2022.

IQAir. (2022, February 18). Real-time Philippines most polluted city ranking. Live AQI city ranking. Viewed on 02-18-2022. 

Sabillo K. (2020, May 20). Beyond lockdown: Can the Philippines sustain low air-pollution levels? ABS-CBN News, Philippines. Earth Journalism Network. Viewed on 02-18-2022. 

Sanlad L. (2020). Air Pollution Awareness in the Philippines: Practical Measures for Prevention. pp. 1 – 15. Viewed on 02-18-2022.