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CEBU, Philippines – At least 48 tenants of Park Point Residences have filed a petition against Ayala Center Cebu for what they said was the shopping mall’s negligence to resolve alleged noise pollution coming from its cooling towers.
David Atkinson, a resident and among the complainants, told Rappler on Friday, October 20, that the noise from the mall has severely affected the health of tenants, most especially children who were losing sleep at night due to the noise from by the cooling towers.
“We’re running at 67 decibels (dB) right now…. It’s like a loud vacuum cleaner and this is all the f*** time,” Atkinson said.
The complainant and 47 other condominium residents signed a petition in June asking the mall’s management to resolve the problem. The residents also reached out to different government agencies, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
On June 27, Atkinson filed a complaint with the DENR on the excessive noise coming from Ayala Center Cebu’s 5 cooling towers. On July 3, DENR sent an investigation team to verify reports of noise pollution near the Park Point Residences.
The condominium is a project developed by Ayala Land Premier and is located adjacent to Ayala Center Cebu. Rappler went to the location of the condominium and found that the cooling towers were a walkable distance from Atkinson’s condo unit.
The DENR investigation team took sound samples from four locations in Atkinson’s unit on the 16th floor and another location which is owned by another complainant on the 6th floor.
Based on the investigation report, the four locations in Atkinson’s unit registered an arithmetic median of 66 dB, 67.4 dB, 64.2 dB, and 62.5 dB. The location owned by another complainant on the 6th floor registered an arithmetic median of 66.7 dB.
“Two out of 4 sampling stations within the premise of Mr. Atkinson and the noise within the premise of the 2nd complainant exceeds the allowable noise levels in a commercial area,” the report read.
Under Chapter 4 of Presidential Decree No. 984 or the Pollution Control Law of the Philippines, the allowable noise level in a commercial area during daytime (9 am to 6 pm) is 65 dB while at nighttime (10 pm to 5 am) is strictly 55 dB.
On July 6, the DENR endorsed the issue to the office of Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama in accordance with Section 8.9, Chapter 19 of Presidential Decree No. 856 or the Sanitation Code of the Philippines.
In August, Atkinson, together with the president of the Park Point Homeowners Association, Nelson Yavallo, met with Rama. The two complainants said Rama promised to find a solution to the problem.
In the July letter sent from DENR to Rama, Engineer Clifford Manlegro, Ayala Center Cebu’s chief engineer, said that the mall’s top management is “already acting on the noise complaint.”
After four months from their first attempt in June, Atkinson said, no clear communication has been made by the mall’s management and the local government to the concerned residents on the steps taken to resolve the noise pollution.
A danger to health
Atkinson said that one of his primary concerns was the health of his two-year-old son who could not sleep properly at night because of the noise coming from the cooling towers.
The complainant added that he also could not just close his unit’s windows to block out the sound, citing a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which states that indoor air pollution levels in homes, workplaces, and school classrooms can be two to five times higher than outdoor pollution levels.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends less than 40 dB of annual noise average outside of bedrooms to prevent adverse health effects from noise at night.
“This is outrageous. If we were in the United States, [Ayala] would have been hit with fines by now,” Atkinson said.
What does the law say?
Environmental lawyer Liza Osorio told Rappler on Friday that noise pollution, upon exceeding community standards, violates the people’s right to a safe, balanced, and healthy environment.
“This is enshrined in our environmental statutes and regulations. Aside from these, other laws such as the Civil Code prohibits nuisance which is applicable in this case,” Osorio said.
Article 695 of the Civil Code describes “public nuisance” as anything that affects a community or neighborhood, although the extent of the annoyance, danger, or damage upon individuals may be unequal.
Historically, Memorandum Circular No. 2, Series of 1980, of the National Pollution Control Commission (NPCC) served as the basis for noise standards in the Philippines.
For areas used for residential purposes, the maximum allowable noise (dB) is set at 55 in the daytime (9 am to 6 pm) and 45 at nighttime (10 pm to 5 am).
Based on Article 699 of the Civil Code, the public can avail: (1) a prosecution under the Revised Penal Code or any local ordinance, (2) a civil action, or (3) an abatement, without judicial proceedings—if the local building official determines that this is the best remedy under the circumstances.
Cebu City Ordinance No. 309 or the Amended Anti-Noise Ordinance of Cebu City prohibits the use of machines that produce loud noises exceeding 40 dB from 9 pm to 1 am.
Violators can be fined not more than P5,000 or be imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
Ayala Center Cebu responds
In an email sent to Rappler on Saturday, October 21, Ayala Center Cebu management confirmed their receipt of the noise complaint.
“To address this concern, we took immediate action and engaged an Independent Acoustic Consultant Expert to thoroughly evaluate and assess all aspects of the cooling towers’ operations,” Ayala Center Cebu said.
“After a comprehensive assessment, the consultant’s report conclusively stated that the mall’s cooling towers are operating well within the permissible noise limits set by regulatory authorities,” it added.
The mall’s management noted that their cooling towers had valid permits to operate and were issued by the Office of the Building Official OBO of Cebu City.
“In line with our commitment to transparency and compliance, representatives from the OBO, CENRO, and City Health have conducted thorough on-site inspections and found no issues related to the allowable noise level. Ayala Malls remains committed to complying with all regulatory requirements in its operations,” Ayala Center Cebu said. – Rappler.com