Noise Pollution - Philippines

According to an article first published in Carmudi PH and today, November 10, 2016, in’s News Feed, the story announced that legislation was passed regarding excessive muffler noise.

NOTE: The Muffler Act of 2016 comes over 2 years since I researched this issue of excessive noise especially by motorcycles and automobiles. I wrote detailed proposals to LTO, MMDA and DENR of my plan to implement an LTO excessive noise test in addition to the current emissions tests for the purpose of registration of motor vehicles. In spite of MMDA’s support of my proposal, DENR, through a letter addressed to me by Atty Jonas R. Leones, politely told me there would be no consideration of my proposal because “our office has prepared the draft Department Administrative Order (DAO) on Noise Emission Standards for all types of motor vehicles, (new & in-use) for purposes of registration, among others”.

At the time the Leones letter was written, in May 2015, the DENR web site had no information regarding any such Noise Emissions Standards. LTO, except for lower-level officials, also took no interest in my doing tests (at no expense to the government) at a local Malate-based LTO to establish needed baseline data on current noise emissions. I devised a detailed plan to establish an initial set of excessive noise standards consistent with WHO (World Health Organization) noise standards.

Collis Davis

Below is my letter to LTO and MMDA, and later to DENR.

24 November 2014DecibelMeter

Atty. Emiliano T. Bantog, Jr.
Executive Director
LTO Central Office
East Avenue
Quezon City

Hon. Francis N. Tolentino
MMDA Building
EDSA corner Orense St.
Guadalupe, Makati City

Dear Attys. Bantog and Tolentino:

This communication is about excessive noise violations of motorcyclists and some motorists and the abatement thereof.

As promised in my November 1st letter, I have now acquired a decibel meter shown to the right. It costs $18.98 (P854) at although I acquired this meter new from a private party here. This meter measures in dB(A) to account for the relative loudness perceived by the human ear. This is the most commonly used dB measuring frequency. The A-weighting is most commonly used and weighs lower frequencies as less important than mid- and higher-frequencies. It is intended to approximate the frequency response of our hearing system.

My next step is to establish a noise baseline at the Manila South LTO located between Remedios and St. Andres, Malate. Before Chief Noel D. Batolina was transferred to another LTO branch, he expressed 100% support of my establishing some baseline data or readings of motorcycles coming in for registration. Next week, Ms. Edna R. Garvida comes in as Batolina’s replacement. So, I’ll convene a meeting with her, including a letter stating what my project is all about.

Kahapon, I went to Manila City Hall to research existing ordinances regarding the question of disturbances of the public peace and found the following ordinances enacted by the Municipal Board in 1960 or earlier, but later amended by Ordinance 4780 updating Sec 848-a of Chapter 90 on December 27, 1962 and approved by Mayor Antonio J. Villegas.

Please note that Chapter 90 – Offenses Against Public Peace, Sec 844. Breaches of the Peace, and Chapter 91-- Offenses of Public Safety, Sec 854-a. Muffling of engine noises, predate the amendment of 848-a. which deals with the prohibition of nocturnal noises during newly adopted hours between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am and during siesta hours between 1pm and 3 pm. Such prohibition applies to all manner of sound production devices and systems except for engine noise.

My focus is on Offences of Public Safety, Sec. 845-a. Muffling of engine noises. To wit:

While the language of these ordinances is sufficiently comprehensive, its enforcement heretofore has been completely dependent upon the subjective perceptions of authorities, law officers, registration agencies such as the present-day LTOs, and last but not least, the public. It is no surprise that these ordinances are virtually unenforceable except in extreme cases such as the Malate-based Amnesiacs open-air karaoke club that was closed down by public protests spearheaded by this writer for breaches of the public peace. A similar case involved the Conspiracy Club in Quezon City which lost its case versus the neighborhood residents.   

But now the “noise” ordinances can be enforced for first time thanks to the development of the digital decibel meter that can quantify or measure sounds in dB(A) terms. The decibel meter will enable the definition of baseline noise levels of average motorcycles with factory-issued mufflers. I hate to say it, but I may discover that even factory-issued mufflers may be excessively loud themselves. So we can’t necessarily assume that these mufflers conform to some noise standards, or do they? Are there any noise level standards imported motorcycles must conform to?

To answer the question of whether there are standards of what constitutes excessive noise levels insofar as communities are concerned, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an expert task force in London, UK, 1999, and produced a document entitled, Guidelines for Community Noise that was developed on the basis of earlier research completed in 1995 by the Stockholm University and Karolinska Institute and by others in 1992.

  • The objective of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. As the first principle of the WHO Constitution the definition of ‘health’ is given as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This broad definition of health embraces the concept of well-being and, thereby, renders noise impacts such as population annoyance, interference with communication, and impaired task performance as ‘health’ issues. In 1992, a WHO Task Force also identified the following specific health effects for the general population that may result from community noise: interference with communication; annoyance responses; effects on sleep, and on the cardiovascular and psychophysiological systems; effects on performance, productivity, and social behavior.
  • One finding in the 1999 report indicated that about “half of European Union citizens are estimated to live in zones which do not ensure acoustical comfort to residents.” Findings indicate that 40% of the population are exposed to daytime traffic noise of 55 dB(A) and 20% are exposed to sound pressure levels of 65 dB(A). At night, more than 30% are exposed to sound pressures exceeding 55 dB(A) which are disturbing to sleep. “The noise pollution problem is also severe in cities of developing countries and caused mainly by traffic. Data collected alongside densely travelled roads were found to have equivalent sound pressure levels for 24 hours of 75 to 80 dB(A).” My own measurements along Roxas Blvd. in the Malate area indicate sound pressure levels on a Sunday morning of 70-90 dB(A). And when readings of 90+ dB(A) were registered, they were invariably caused by motorcycles passing by the observer’s location. 

    By way of a brief summary, the scope of WHO’s effort is to derive guidelines for community noise by consolidating actual scientific knowledge on the health impacts of community noise and to provide guidance to environmental health authorities and professionals trying to protect people from the harmful effects of noise in non-industrial environments.

It is extremely interesting that the municipal board (now, city council) circa 1960 used the terminology, Offences of Public Safety, Sec. 845-a. Muffling of engine noises. Obviously members of the municipal board were quite prescient to have used the term “Public Safety” which we would term as “Public Health” today, especially in keeping the WHO’s language. Even then, the municipal board understood the “health” effects of noise pollution.

As I discuss further below, the Guidelines for Community Noise calls for a noise management program that begins with an “analysis that should include: a baseline description of the existing noise environment; an assessment of its adverse health effects; an estimation of the population at risk; the calculation of exposure-response relationships; an assessment of risks and their acceptability; and a cost-benefit analysis.
See below attached Table 1.: WHO Guideline values for community noise in specific environments.

  • Further, the Guidelines state that “A legal framework is needed to provide a context for noise management. National noise standards can usually be based on a consideration of international guidelines, such as these Guidelines for Community Noise, as well as national criteria documents, which consider dose-response relationships for the effects of noise on human health. National standards take into account the technological, social, economic and political factors within the country. A staged program of noise abatement should also be implemented to achieve the optimum health protection levels over the long term.

I will assume at the beginning of this study that the factory-issued mufflers are sufficiently quiet and fall within what will become defined as the baseline level of loudness expressed in dB(A). Motorcycles and some souped-up* automobiles or cars whose loudness clearly fall outside of the baseline loudness of average motorcycles or cars equipped with factory-built mufflers will be subject to discovery of factors accounting for their exceptional loudness, e.g., (1) retro-fitted Philippine-made mufflers intentionally designed to be extra-loud, (2) holes in the exhaust system or (3) a factory-issued muffler whose loudness exceeds the baseline level of the average factory-built motorcycles or cars. We must not, on the other hand, assume that Philippine-made retro-fitted mufflers are all designed to be extra-loud; perhaps motorcycle and car mufflers rust out like automobile mufflers do, and require replacement with locally-made, legitimate mufflers that will undoubtedly be less expensive.

Procedurally, I will begin taking sound samples with my decibel meter of every motorcycle and exceptionally loud automobiles submitted for ordinary emissions testing from a distance of 3 meters from the side and from the rear of the vehicle (noting if there are significant differences detected between these two positions relative to the vehicle). The position that results in the higher reading will then become the standard position from which all readings are conducted. Another factor is discovering any differences between readings taken of the vehicles under the covered testing area versus out in the open without a rooftop covering the testing area, the reasoning being that testing under the roof top may result in an inadvertent amplification of sound not observed when vehicles are tested out in the open area (still within the LTO premises) which is actually not unlike vehicular sounds heard anywhere in an open city environment.

When an exceptionally loud motorcycle or vehicle is tested for the standard emissions tests, I will query the owner or driver about the origin of the loud muffler. Factory-issued mufflers tend to be more elaborately engineered and have professional-looking labels identifying its brand name, sometimes different from the motorcycle’s brand name. Additionally, retro-fitted local mufflers may show signs of post-factory welding joints where the retro-fitted mufflers are attached to the exhaust pipe coming from the engine. Although I am no motorcycle or automotive expert, I can usually observe evidence of retro-fitted welding jobs.

One legal question has to do with whether this noise abatement initiative should endeavor to update the City of Manila ordinances alluded to above or pursue this matter on a national level by having new rules of allowable noise limits enacted into law by the House of Representatives and the Senate? After all, LTOs are not managed by LGUs, but is, itself, a national agency.

In a future scenario, after new rules have been enacted into law and announced to the public, any motorcycles or vehicles that exceed the specific dB(A) baseline loudness levels, should be denied registrations and/or license plates until they satisfy the loudness levels prescribed by law. For this regime to become effective, LTO personnel must be trained on how to use the decibel meters and from what legally-prescribed positions the meters must be used to obtain consistent, accurate readings from one vehicle to the next. Outside of the LTOs, MMDA officers, patrolmen and examiners can enforce these laws by having inexpensive decibel meters like that shown on the first page as part of their standard issue gear. This enables the MMDA to spot-check a muffler that may sound suspiciously loud, and if its loudness exceeds the baseline noise level, a review of the motorcycle’s registration will indicate whether the noise abatement law affects the driver in question. When road-side emissions spot-checking is performed, decibel readings should be made SOP. After the program has been in effect for 2 years, every motorcycle within Metro Manila, if not the country as a whole, will have been evaluated, corrective remedies applied, if necessary, with the result being nothing less than the transformation of the Philippines into a country known as the quietest country on the planet.

Respectfully yours,

Collis Davis


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