Monday, October 1, 2012

China’s Blood Red October

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu
THIS APHORISM from China’s most famous military intellectual is the essence of the strategy China now uses against the Philippines and her allies in the standoff at the West Philippine Sea.

Sun Tzu
In statecraft, the strategy described by this aphorism goes by the name, “coercive diplomacy.” Coercive diplomacy and bullying share a similar method: the use of threats to impose one’s will on an opponent.  In coercive diplomacy, the threat of force, and not force itself, is used to bring an opposing nation to heel.

In the military realm, this course of action is called the “Strategy of the Indirect Approach.” Championed by the British military thinker, Sir Basil Liddell Hart, this method has the aim of defeating the enemy without fighting. Unusual as it might sound, the indirect approach of winning without fighting is considered by both Sun Tzu and Liddell Hart as the “supreme art of war” or the perfection of generalship.

Liddell Hart
For Liddell Hart, the true aim of a strategist “. . . is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is bound to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy . . . .”

And what does the similar conclusion drawn by these thinkers have to do with the Philippines and its problem with China in the West Philippine Sea?

It sheds light on what China is doing and what she hopes to achieve. Coercive diplomacy and the indirect approach are two sides of the same strategic coin. When used effectively, either of the two weapons can advance a state’s national interests without resorting to fighting.

China will not war
It is worthwhile for the Philippines to remember that China, at this decisive point in her history, neither desires nor is prepared to go to war over the West Philippine Sea despite its enormous importance to her future.

China is now a victim of simultaneous and momentous political and economic events that will prevent her from resorting to force to attain her national interests in the West Philippine Sea, including the Panatag Shoal. These historic events will serve to limit China’s options to making ugly faces and horrifying noises at the Philippines, Vietnam and their three other allies for the remainder of this year until well into 2013.

The first of these events is the changeover of the top leadership in China that will occur in October. The other is the certainty that China’s third quarter Gross Domestic Product results (to be released also in October) will reveal that its economy has weakened further, and that the dreaded “hard landing” of 7.5% growth has become a reality.

When coupled with angry social unrest at the vast and widening income gap between the few communist rich and the rest of the population, and the crumbling banking sector that sustains its military machine, these events could set the stage for the extinction of communism’s hold on China this decade.

Looking inwards
China’s sudden declaration this September that “the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea is assured” is an admission she will first focus on resolving her dangerous internal problems before turning her attention to international affairs.

It has nothing to do with China suddenly becoming a kinder and gentler dictatorship or with relinquishing her claim to the West Philippine Sea. China is simply buying time so she can deal with these extremely dangerous local issues.

In October, President Hu Jintao will step down in favor of Xi Jinping while Premier Wen Xiabao will relinquish his post to Li Keqiang at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing. These new leaders will formally take over in March 2013 at the National People's Congress.

It will be in China’s best interests if its new leaders first portrayed themselves as peace loving champions and not remind the rest of the world of their predecessors’ troublemaking in the West Philippine Sea. It is a policy the new leaders might place on the backburner at the start of their terms in office.

There is every chance that the tensions of the past year provoked by China will subside, for some time at least, as these new leaders make their presence felt. It will be to the advantage of the Philippines and her allies if China’s attention were diverted away from the West Philippine Sea for as long as possible.

China’s mounting economic woes should keep its new leadership occupied with the flagging economy rather than pursuing its coercive diplomacy in the West Philippine Sea. A pause in China’s coercive diplomacy will grant the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei precious time to consider the wisdom of formal collective action against China.

A respite of a year or more from China’s relentless coercive diplomacy will see the Philippines and Vietnam better armed than they were at the start of this standoff. They and their three other allies will be better able to thwart China’s indirect approach military strategy should this confrontation be pushed by China to the brink of war.

Defeating China
If China prevails in her coercive diplomacy, she will also have succeeded in her indirect approach to the military aspect of this equation. She will have succeeded in dislocating her foes and fulfilled Liddell Hart’s aim of achieving a strategic situation “. . . so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is bound to achieve this.”

China’s indirect approach is simple: keep the five claimants divided. Isolated, each claimant becomes more vulnerable to China’s coercive diplomacy and still more vulnerable to economic and political pressure.

Thus will China succeed in defeating “. . . the enemy without fighting.” It will be a triumphant application of Sun Tzu.

The solution to this indirect approach is equally simple: a military alliance. For the five allies, it is clearly a choice between defeat in detail or victory in unity. Stated in these terms, the allies are left with but one reasonable option.

It is in the best interests of the Philippines and her allies that China’s political situation turns for the worse after the transfer of political leadership this October, and that China’s economy collapses faster than expected. Ironically, these events (should they occur) could begin in October, the month that saw the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Communism might not live to see its 70th anniversary in China. This is the greatest disaster that will befall communism in China should events in the West Philippine Sea spiral out of communist control.

By standing fast and standing together, the Philippines and her four allies can be part of this great historical event in the making. It will be a Blood Red October for China.

Filipino soldiers on Kalayaan Island

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Iron Fist

THERE IS NOW a dire need for the Philippines to take the lead in building a military alliance with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Extremely alarming events in the past two months triggered by Communist China are serving to convince our Allies that they, too, are actual and not potential victims of Communist China's relentless diplomatic aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.

The governments of our four Allies should realize an alliance remains the only viable option for deterring Communist China from pursuing its "New Imperialism" that will reduce them to the status of witless vassals if left unchecked.

Fresh in their minds is the humiliating example of servile Cambodia, ever the subservient Igor to Communist China's Dr. Frankenstein.

There is sound logic for using the powerful diplomatic tool of alliance building. Alone, none of the five Allied nations has the power to bend Communist China to its will.

Collectively, however, the Power of the Five will be enough to deter further Communist Chinese expansionism in the West Philippine Sea.

One can compare the Five to the fingers in a hand. Singly, each finger is vulnerable to pressure, however slight. But acting together when clenched, the Five Fingers become an Iron Fist with the power to inflict pain on any foe.

And the Iron Fist can now turn to Japan and India for support because of Communist China’s aptitude for making enemies right and left. This support is tantamount to arming the Iron Fist with a massive battleaxe.

Seapower: The future Philippine Navy

The naval balance
The power of the Iron Fist lies in the combined naval power it can bring to bear against the Communist Chinese. In numbers, both sides are almost evenly matched.

Together, the Allies can currently muster some 50 surface combatants (destroyers, frigates and corvettes) and eight submarines. It will be far stronger by 2020.

Their antagonist in any sea conflict will be the South Sea Fleet of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This fleet of some 30 destroyers and frigates and eight diesel-electric submarines is based in the city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province.

This fleet will be reinforced by the more powerful East Sea Fleet (whose mission is to invade Taiwan) should fighting erupt. But the presence of the ROC Navy should serve to deter any massive redeployment of its ships to assist the South Sea Fleet.

The PLAN has an edge in fighting power and a homogeneous command structure. Together, what the Allies have is a credible naval deterrent that inflict far more damage on the PLAN than any single Allied nation can.

A bully won’t be as warlike if he knows the nerds facing him can also beat him up, as well. It is this fear that will restrain the bully from further provocations. And any hesitation by Communist China to further its aim of transforming the West Philippine Sea into a Communist Chinese Lake is already a victory for the Allies.

But this will only be brought about by the existence of the Iron Fist.

Allied naval power
In 2011, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam took delivery of her second “Gepard 3.9 Class” frigate. Vietnam’s two operational Gepard (Russian for “cheetah”) frigates are now among the most advanced surface combatants among the Allies apart from Taiwan's U.S. made destroyers and "La Fayette" stealth frigates. Vietnam has two more Gepards on order.

The Gepard’s firepower is massive: eight sea-skimming “Switchblade” anti-ship missiles, each with a range of 130 km; a surface-to-air missile system; two 6-barreled 30 mm autocannon; torpedoes; an anti-submarine rocket launcher and a 76.2 mm dual purpose main gun.

Vietnam is awaiting delivery of six improved “Kilo Class” submarines (six torpedo tubes, 6,000 mile range). It currently operates 23 Sukhoi “Su-30MK2” Flanker-C naval fighter-bombers (anti-ship missiles, 5,000 mile range) and is buying more of these anti-ship attack aircraft.

These weapons systems, all made in Russia, bring Vietnam closer to the point where she can successfully challenge China--her primary strategic foe--if push comes to shove in the West Philippine Sea. And Vietnam has a score to settle with Communist China.

Vietnam suffered a naval defeat off our Kalayaan Archipelago during the "Spratly Islands Naval Battle of 1988." In that battle, three missile-armed Chinese frigates attacked three almost defenseless Vietnamese troop transport ships defended by three lightly armed patrol boats, sinking all the transports and killing 60 Vietnamese. The Chinese lost six men but no ships.

Malaysia and Taiwan also realize the immense value of submarines and modern warships in defending their national interests in the West Philippine Sea.

Malaysia three years ago took delivery of two Scorpène submarines built by France. These advanced subs are armed with “Blackshark” wire-guided torpedoes and “Exocet SM-39” sub-launched anti-ship missiles.

Taiwan operates four submarines, 22 modern frigates and four destroyers. In addition, the ROC Navy is building 30 “Kuang Hua VI Class” missile boats capable of patrolling the West Philippine Sea. Brunei's navy consists of missile armed corvettes and fast patrol boats.

The Philippines 
And what of the Philippines and her Philippine Navy?

The Navy is becoming stronger because of a stronger focus on national defense by Pres. Aquino. A second Hamilton-class frigate will join its sister-ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, next year as will another frigate. The new Hamilton is expected to be armed with missiles and a close-in weapons system for use against aircraft.

The most heartening news, however, is that the Philippines will acquire two Italian frigates armed with ship-to-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles. These will be the first modern fighting warships in the Navy.

More firepower for the Philippine Navy: A Maestrale-class frigate.
Despite its paucity in naval fighting power, the Philippines has an ace-in-the-hole: the mighty United States Navy. The coming redeployment of 60% of the U.S. Navy's fighting power to the Pacific will also give China pause.

Communist China, however, has shown a stubborn streak in its push for hegemony in the West Philippine Sea. And there is abundant reason to doubt Communist China’s sincerity when she states diplomacy is her preferred tool in solving the Spratlys’ impasse. Her recent and relentless aggressive actions belie this claim again and again.

Only the Iron Fist will suffice to keep Communist China in check. And the Allies can learn from recent history the folly of appeasing aggressive states such as Communist China.

The Philippines and her Allies cannot cede a single centimeter of territory in the West Philippine Sea to the Communist Chinese. To do so would ignite a chain of disastrous events that will lead to a war.

In the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938, the Western Allies surrendered the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the hope of preventing Adolf Hitler from plunging Europe into war. This act of appeasement failed and World War II was not averted.

History must not repeat itself at our expense.

Original of the version published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 9 August 2012.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Valor and heroism: Filipino soldiers' stories from the Korean War

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 8, 2012)

THERE WAS A GREAT NATION in the 1950s that thought nothing of assisting an oppressed people whose country had been reduced to dire poverty by its brutal colonial occupier.

This great nation did whatever it could to assist this foreign race: it put forward a proposal at the United Nations that led to the general elections that created the new country called the Republic of Korea on 15 August 1948.

It was the first Asian country to open diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea.

It continued to provide South Korea with food and financial assistance to help ensure South Korea’s survival in the turbulent years following the birth of that state.

And, in an astonishing act of humanity and selflessness, this great nation sent its soldiers to defend South Korea against a massive communist invasion despite its having to contend with a communist rebellion of its own, and the painful challenge of rebuilding an economy crippled by the Second World War.

It was the first Asian country to send combat troops to the Korean War that began on 25 June 1950. Its soldiers protected South Korea until 1955.

All this the great country called the Philippines did for its protégé, the Republic of Korea.

These monumental achievements are badges of great national pride for all Filipinos.

Sixty one years ago, the first Filipino warrior set foot on Korea at the port city of Busan on 19 September 1950. The 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) was the first of five BCTs that would serve in Korea until June 1955 under the flag of the elite Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea or PEFTOK.

Quiapo, Manila from Quiapo Bridge in the 1950s

An extensive account of the Philippines’ role in the Korean War is on the Internet at

Over 7,400 officers and men of the Philippine Army served in Korea. Five of these warriors—all in their 80s—recently returned to Korea for the first time since the Korean War. The Korean government sponsored their visit as part of the “Revisit Korea Program” for Filipino Korean War veterans and their families.

These veterans were accompanied by 15 other Filipinos, who were either their children or grandchildren. Their host was South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

These veterans were all astounded at the massive progress Korea had made over the past six decades, and rued the Philippines’ paucity of progress in that same time. One veteran noted that our present economic situation is the reverse of what it had been in the 1950s.

The Philippines then was Southeast Asia’s leading economic and military power and Asia’s second largest economy after Japan. From being one of the world’s poorest nations in the 1950s, South Korea is now one of the world’s 30 richest in per capita gross domestic product.

A most dangerous man
“I can’t believe how fast South Korea has improved since the Korean War,” said Jesus Dizon, who at 86 is the oldest Korean War veteran among the Revisitors. “It’s a tribute to the Korean people.”

His unit was the 20th BCT, the second Filipino BCT deployed to Korea. Dizon was a Forward Observer or FO, the most dangerous of Allied soldiers, whose job was to identify targets for the six 105mm howitzers of the battalion’s field artillery battery.

105mm howitzers of the 20th BCT open fire.
FOs got their deadly job done with a field telephone; a pair of powerful binoculars, maps—and a great deal of courage. They normally occupied well-hidden positions on hilltops or other dominating terrain near the enemy and spent days searching for enemy activity. The power of life or death held by an FO was terrifying.

In North Korea one morning, a large number of communist Chinese soldiers suddenly appeared below a ridgeline Dizon had been observing for some time. Dizon located the enemy unit on the grid map spread before him.

He calmly picked up his field telephone and called-in the target coordinates to the fire direction center of the battalion’s artillery battery emplaced a few kilometers behind him.

“Fire!” he ordered.

A single high-explosive 105mm round exploded away from the Chinese unit. Dizon noted the fall of the ranging round through his binoculars. He reported the adjusted range over the phone and commanded the entire battery to open fire.

Six 105mm howitzers manned by Filipinos unleashed shell after shell into the Chinese. Dizon saw the bewildered Chinese engulfed by horrifying explosions as murderous blasts tore apart their unit.

The inferno was over in about a minute. A dirty pall of dust and smoke from the barrage lingering over the tragedy served as the gravestone for dozens of dead Chinese.

Dizon put down his field telephone and stared at his handiwork.

“All of this was flat,” exclaimed Luminoso Cruz when referring to the thriving and crowded city of Suwon, 30 kilometers south of Seoul. “It was flat and gray. This city was totally destroyed.”

Suwon was where Cruz’s unit, the 10th BCT, spent its first Christmas in Korea. That was in 1950 and the 10th was the first of the five BCTs that served in Korea.

Cruz, a member of Recon Company, was the gunner of an M24 Chaffee light tank armed with a 75mm cannon. He took a shrapnel wound to the head along the banks of the Imjin River and was visibly moved as our bus crossed the river north during our visit to the Demilitarized Zone.

“This was where I was wounded,” he said, pointing to the bank of the Imjin, while suppressing his tears.

He fought in a two-man foxhole at the great Battle of Yuldong, which he recalled as a night of incredible terror.

“The Chinese attacked us in waves all night. My buddy and I just kept firing and firing our rifles,” he recalled of this gory battle, which was fought on 23 April 1951.

He doesn’t know how they survived the murderous hell of Yuldong. But his buddy had to be sent home afterwards. His nerves had given way under the terror of too much savage combat.

They called it “shell shock” then. We call it “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD today.

The Battle of Yuldong was the greatest Filipino victory in the Korean War. A mere 900 Filipino fighting men withstood the night attack of an entire communist Chinese army that numbered 40,000 men at peak strength.

In standing their ground at Yuldong, the Filipinos fatally slowed-down the largest Chinese offensive of the war, and probably helped prevent the destruction of the United Nations forces and the communist conquest of South Korea.

The 10th BCT fends-off the communist Chinese 12th Army at the Battle of Yuldong.
One man's handiwork
Amiable and talkative, Florendo Benedicto served in both the 10th BCT and the 20th BCT. He decided to “re-up” or re-enlist in the 20th BCT because he loved combat.

Benedicto stands almost six feet tall and in the Army at the time, tall men generally wound-up becoming gunners in the belief they could carry heavier loads.

Benedicto’s weapon was the M1919 Browning .30 caliber medium machine gun that could fire up to 600 rounds a minute. The gun itself weighed 14 kilograms and it was Benedicto’s job to lug the gun onto the battlefield and fire it at the communist enemy. He did this on many occasions in two years of fighting.

Browning .30 cal.machine gun crew await the Chinese.

Today, however, Benedicto has rediscovered Jesus Christ. He spoke fondly of his Christianity, and quoted Bible verses during some of our conversations.

He believes that South Korea’s enviable economic blessings are due mostly to the strong unity pervading South Koreans.

“Their national unity is worth emulating,” he said. “Filipinos should learn from the South Koreans.”

And how can Filipinos achieve the great economic success of South Koreans?

“We have to establish love in the heart of every Filipino,” he answered. “We must love one another.”

It is a startling transformation for this formerly fierce warrior. It is all the more surprising if one knows what he did in the Korean War.

“I know I killed about 200 Chinese,” he said calmly when we talked about this. “I probably killed 300 more.”

Is he certain he killed 200 Chinese?

“I counted their dead bodies,” he replied.

Benedicto’s feat is all the more astounding since only 112 Filipino soldiers died in three years of combat in the Korean War despite almost constant fighting.

Happy birthday, Korea
Constancio Sanchez turned 24 on the historic day the 10th BCT arrived by ship at Busan on 19 September 1950, less than four months after the start of the Korean War on 25 June.

Knowing this, his officers allowed Sanchez to become one of the first Filipino fighting men to set foot on Korean soil. His mates then treated him to a merienda at one of the restaurants in the port city then being besieged by the communist North Korean People’s Army.

Sanchez served in the Headquarters & Headquarters & Service Company, the command group of the 10th BCT. The battalion was founded and first commanded by Col. Mariano Azurin. Col. Dionisio Ojeda replaced Azurin in the spring of 1951.

Of all the dangers he faced in the war, Sanchez remains awed by that phenomenon alien to Filipino experience called winter. It was December 1950 and the battalion was in Pyongyang when the communist Chinese intervened, and hurled the United Nations Command (including the 10th BCT) out of North Korea.

The winter of 1950-1951 was Korea’s coldest in two centuries but this did nothing to dispel the savage fighting that actually intensified with the Chinese intervention.

“We were shocked when the Chinese came and advanced so quickly,” he said. “We had to withdraw rapidly to avoid encirclement and it was terribly cold.”

Filipino warriors march amid snow covered fields.
Things would have been far worse for the battalion if the Chinese had attacked earlier, Sanchez believes. The onset of winter a month earlier immobilized most of their motor vehicles.

The intense sub-zero cold froze the water in engines and shattered engine blocks. This paralyzed most of the battalion’s vehicles, including those in the transport-heavy HQ&HQ Company.

Adding antifreeze to the water solved the problem, however, so that when the Chinese came, the battalion’s trucks, jeeps and armored vehicles kept running despite the intense cold.

“We probably wouldn’t have escaped from Pyongyang if we had to march on foot through the snow.”

Friends and God
Prudencio Medrano served in the HQ&HQ & Service Company of the 19th BCT, the third PEFTOK unit deployed to Korea, and re-upped for another year with the 14th BCT. And this was because of his friends.

“I re-enlisted because we were ‘buddy-buddy,’” he said. “Five of my buddies in the 19th BCT decided to extend. They asked me if I wanted to extend and I did because they were my buddies.”

In both BCTs, Medrano served as a radio operator of their battalion commanders: Col. Ramon Aguirre of the 19th and Col. Nicanor Jimenez of the 14th.

With the 19th, Medrano recalls he was often in the advanced command post with Col. Aguirre. His job was to transmit and receive voice messages and telegraph messages via Morse Code. Lives depended on the accuracy of his messages.

PEFTOK radiomen at headquarters.
Medrano rediscovered God amid the horror of the Korean War. The long spells between action and boredom along the static front line gave him time to reflect on things spiritual.

His search for meaning led him to what he called his greatest accomplishment during the war: joining the Iglesia ni Cristo in 1955.

* This is the original of the story published on Page 1 of the 8 July 2012 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Make your car healthier and safer

Notice how wads of crisp, newly printed P1,000 bills or the interior of a brand new car emit certain odors that make you giddy with delight?

The scent of clean, new money is a wonderful “pick-me-up” caused by chemicals in the special inks used in printing these bills. You could literally call the effect produced by these inks “a million peso high.”

The odor emitted by the interior of a brand new car, on the other hand, comes from the many chemical compounds used to make practically everything inside the passenger compartment.

Those chemicals, baked by the heat inside the closed compartment, produce that distinctive “new car smell” that assaults your senses once you open the car door. You could also describe the effect as a “million peso high” since many new cars in this country cost over a million pesos.

Unlike the harmless giddiness produced by money, however, that “new car smell” comes from toxic gases—and could be dangerous to your health.

PBDEs and phthalates
In 2006, a groundbreaking study released by The Ecology Center showed that interiors of cars and other motor vehicles contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals. The Ecology Center is a membership-based, nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that keeps tabs on toxic car chemicals.

Its 2006 report entitled, "Toxic At Any Speed: Chemicals in Cars and the Need for Safe Alternatives," reveals that many materials producing that “new car smell” are made from toxic chemicals known to pose major public health risks.

Car interiors are made from different kinds of plastics or “plasticized” leather. According to health experts, these plastics constantly emit toxins vaporized from the different plastic components in the car’s interior.

New cars carry 250 pounds of plastic on average. Most of these plastics are used in arm rests, door panels, steering wheels, dashboards, interior seat cushions and switches.

This toxic chemical climate in automobile interiors is normally caused by “PBDEs,” (chemicals used as fire retardants) and “phthalates,” (or phthalic acid esters, which are chemicals used to soften PVC plastics). The study found PBDEs and phthalates in dangerous amounts in dust and windshield film samples.

Phthalates chemical structure
PBDEs or Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are organobromine compounds used as flame retardants. The European Union has banned the use of PBDEs and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in electric and electronic devices out of health concerns.

PBDEs and phthalates are considered volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are carbon-based chemicals that can evaporate into the air under the right conditions such as high temperatures caused by sunlight.

The most prevalent VOCs found in new cars are benzene (a human carcinogen); ethylbenzene (a systemic toxic agent) and acetone (a mucosal irritant).

The Ecology Center described cars as “chemical reactors” that release toxins in a process called “off-gassing.” It said PBDE, phthalates and other chemicals are inhaled or ingested by drivers and passengers through dust and air, potentially causing allergic or other acute reactions, and long-term health problems such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer.

Off-gassing is triggered by high interior temperatures caused by sunlight, a process that accelerates in cars parked under the sun. The combination of higher temperatures caused by windshields and windows, and UV exposure from sunlight can cause PBDEs in cars to become up to five times more dangerous than in homes and offices.

The study also showed significantly higher levels of PBDEs in vehicles studied compared to levels in homes and offices measured in previous studies, making “in-car pollution” a major source of indoor air pollution.

The study said toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles is a major source of potential indoor air pollution since the average American spends about 1.5 hours in a car everyday. Children are the most vulnerable to off-gassing.

U.S. automakers, however, believe that chemicals such as the PBDE flame retardants are needed to protect people in crashes. They claim these chemicals have been shown not to pose a risk to occupants.

“Safe” plastics
The Ecology Center’s website at provides a wealth of information about the dangers of off-gassing. tested some 450 of the most popular vehicle models in the U.S. from 2006-2009.

It noted that two car makers had made significant improvements since the original findings and had joined another company as the three leaders in using “safe” plastics for indoor auto parts. The trio also widely uses bio-based materials; is improving interior air quality and reducing PVC use.

One maker developed an eco-plastic made from sugar cane or corn and is building a pilot plant to produce it. Another is developing a soy-based foam and a bio-fabric for its car seats.

Japanese car makers, however, became the first to set an industry-wide goal of reducing VOCs in passenger compartments. They agreed to cut levels of 13 VOCs (including styrene and formaldehyde) to match Japanese requirements for homes.

A separate study on VOCs, PBDEs and phthalates conducted by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) discovered extremely high levels of these substances in new cars.

It found that total VOC levels were very high in two locally made cars that reached the market one to two months after manufacture. These levels decreased some seven-fold in the first month, but still exceeded Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council indoor air standard.

While there is no comparable study in the Philippines, it is probably safe to assume that Filipino drivers and passengers face the same dangers from off-gassing as do their American and Australian counterparts.

One must remember, however, that exposure to VOCs, PBDEs and phthalates does not automatically mean one will get sick.

Among the many factors that determine if new car owners and their passengers may become ill from off-gassing include exposure to one or more individual VOCs or VOC combinations that create another compound; length of time of exposure and personal characteristics such as age and general health status.

Tips for a healthier car
Filipino car owners will also benefit from these tips on how to minimize the dangers from off-gassing and make their cars healthier:

  • Vacuum often; 
  • Use solar reflectors often; 
  • Ventilate the car interior often;
  • Park in the shade or away from sunlight as much as possible