The Bureau of Soils and Water Management as the authorized agency to supervise, regulate and control the establishment and operations of all soil laboratories in the country by virtue of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1435 has started implementing the Department of Agriculture Memorandum Circular No. 33, series of 2020 on the Guidelines for the Implementation of PD No. 1435 on the Issuance of License to Operate-Soil Laboratory (LTO-SL) last March 2021.

To facilitate its implementation, the Laboratory Services Division headed by Dr. Gina P. Nilo established the BSWM Technical Evaluation and Audit Team (TE&AT) and the Capacity Building and Training Services Unit under the Quality Assurance Section of PD No. 1435. The TE&AT is composed of three teams composed on a team head, and two team members who are in charge of specific soil laboratories. They are in charge of the inspection of the soil laboratories to validate the veracity of the data and information contained in the documentary requirements and evaluate the compliance of the soil laboratory to the DA MC No. 33 s. 2020; and determine the issuance/non-issuance of the LTO-SL to the applicant laboratory.

Aside from these, various collaboration with the following institutions to wit: National Tax Research Center of the Department of Finance to establish the fees on the issuance of LTO-SL; Anti-Red Tape Authority to ensure alignment with the Ease of Doing Business Act as well as the Guidelines on the Issuance/ Reinstitution of Permits and Licenses under the New Normal; Professional Regulation Commission Board of Chemistry harmonization with the IRR on the Certificate of Authority to Operate Chemical Laboratories; and Department of Science and Technology on the granting of hazard pay to Contract of Service Personnel have also been made.

As of to date, there are 42 registered Soil Laboratories in the Philippines National Soil Laboratory Network (PHIL NASOLAN). These 42 soil laboratories are composed of 17 DA Regional and Satellite Soil laboratories; nine National and Provincial Soil laboratories; eight Private/International Soil Laboratories; and eight from State Universities and Colleges and Research Soil Laboratories. Their inspection as part of the steps on the issuance of LTO-SL started on April 8, 2021 and is targeted to be finished by the 2nd week of September 2021.

As of June 30, 2021, among these 42 Soil Laboratories, the TE&AT have assessed 22 laboratories. Of which five or 23% of the total number of assessed laboratories were found to be compliant and 15 or 68% of the total number of assessed laboratories were found to be non-compliant. The compliant laboratories issued with their LTO-SL certificate are the following: Ilagan Soil Laboratory (DARSL/SATSL016); F.A.S.T. Laboratories in Cagayan de Oro City (PL/INTSL029); CRL Environmental Corporation (PL/INTSL027); DA Regional Soils Laboratory X (DARSL/SATSL012); and DA Regional Soils Laboratory CAR (DARSL/SATSL001).

According to the results of the assessments conducted, compliant laboratories exhibited the following strengths which made them rise above all other soil laboratories assessed, to wit: 1) advancement in the implementation of Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) measures; and 2) readiness in the assessment for ISO 17025. While the non-compliances of the other laboratories were on: 1) publication of verified test methods either at the international, regional or national-level; 2) proper documentation of test methods; 3) implementation of QA/QC; and 4) documentation of laboratory procedures among others. 

These non-compliances brought about the development of capacity building activities which will be developed into training modules for accreditation of the Philippines Accreditation Board. In the development of the training modules, the following training needs have been identified:

  1. Under the manpower requirement – SOP for the authorization of technical staff to conduct laboratory activities, interpretation of a soil test result (harmonization w/ BSWM), harmonization of the soil test report forms, accreditation of the laboratory to statutory and regulatory entities and granting of hazard pay, and ISO 17025:2017 Awareness Training;
  2. Under the Physical Layout of the Laboratory Facility – room adjacency (workflow), creation of bubble diagram (for establishment of soil labs), lighting and ventilation (refer to DA Masterplan), correlation of work space with volume and type of analysis, and Laboratory Safety Measures;
  3. Under the Equipment and Apparatus – Creation of equipment master list w/ spare parts, coding system and labeling (check table also in Master Plan), creation of an equipment manual, establishment of calibration and preventive maintenance calendar, considerations for purchase requests (calibration and PMS), criteria for equipment maintenance, requirements of a calibration report, tolerance limits for calibrations of equipment/glasswares, how to use calibration reports?, breakdown of equipment, calibration and verification checks;
  4. Under the Test Methods – harmonization of the BSWM Test Methods, conduct of Method Verification/Validation, and how to set-up a method verification/validation report;
  5. Quality Control/ Quality Assurance – internal QCs and external QCs; and
  6. Laboratory Procedures – development of SOP and WI; document control procedure, and evaluation of customer feedback

Moving forward, the LSD-PD 1435 Team targets to start conducting capacity building activities by the fourth week of September 2021 and conduct the 2nd General Assembly Meeting of the PHIL NASOLAN by the third week of September 2021. All these to achieve harmonized test methods, measurements and indicators for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources across all soil laboratories in the country that are comparable both at the regional and global levels.