Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Capitol gains ash dump ECC

The Province has acquired an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) that will allow it to use part of a beachfront property as a dump for coal ash from power plants, in exchange for fees.

Environmentalists want to see the ECC for themselves, but will question its issuance.

Capitol spokesman lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda confirmed the Province obtained an ECC weeks ago, which meant the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has affirmed the project set up in the former Balili resort property in Tinaan, Naga.

Lawyer and environmentalist Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said she wrote the DENR a letter to ask for a copy of the ECC within five working days.

She questioned the reported issuance of the ECC, saying there was no public hearing among the affected residents. Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 requires that such a hearing be held.

The ECC lists measures a project proponent has to take in order to lessen any damage it may cause to the environment. The DENR grants it after reviewing and approving the project's environmental management plan. Social acceptability is one of the conditions.

Naga City Mayor Val Chiong, in a separate interview, said no public hearing was conducted regarding the use of part of the beachfront property as a coal ash dumping site.

However, Chiong clarified a public hearing may have been held at the barangay level.


Sepulveda said that Ramos and other parties involved in the dispute are being more obstructionists than environmentalists.

The Asian Development Bank, he added, would not be funding the project if it was hazardous to the public.

He said the Province will proceed with the development of the Balili ash landfill, unless "a lawful order from a competent authority" tells it not to do so.

The DENR 7, for its part, referred all questions about the ECC to Regional Executive Director Leonardo Sibbaluca and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Central Visayas Director Alan Arranguez. But both officials were unavailable yesterday. Sibbaluca was reportedly in South Korea, while Arranguez was attending a Senate budget hearing in Manila.

Meanwhile, the former owners of the Balili property reportedly insisted the land they sold was not underwater. They said this in answer to a case the Capitol filed to ask for a refund of P37.8 million.

At the pre-trial hearing of the civil case, Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla said yesterday, the Balilis maintained the beachfront property in Naga, Cebu is not submerged.

The Province intends to present a geodetic engineer to support their claim for the refund, representing the Capitol's payments for submerged or mangrove-covered portions of the nearly 25-hectare property, said Martinquilla.

Regional Judge Regional Trial Court Branch 14 Judge Raphael Yrastorza resumed Wednesday the hearing on the civil case for specific performance and refund, which the Capitol had filed.


The Provincial Legal Office had asked the court to order lawyer Romeo Balili, the estate executor, to reimburse the Capitol a total of P37,810,400. That's what the Capitol paid for two properties, totaling 94,526 square meters.

The Province also asked for interest.

It plans to present at least three witnesses to support the claim for a refund. Trial will resume on December 10.

The discovery of the submerged and mangrove portions was one finding the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas cited, when it found basis to upgrade into a criminal case an anonymous complaint filed against Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. and the Provincial Board (PB) for the purchase of the Balili property.

The graft investigator also recommended a separate criminal investigation for gross inexcusable negligence against the governor, vice governor and 12 PB members, over the absence of a feasibility study and "a thorough verification of the area to be purchased, taking into consideration the huge amount involved."


Former PB member Juan Bolo and nine other Capitol officials will face a separate criminal investigation for "conspiring and confederating with each other in the purchase of a land which is classified as timberland".

Environmentalists recently welcomed the ombudsman's announcement that it would upgrade an anonymous complaint into a criminal investigation against some Capitol officials.

But the reported issuance of the ECC dismayed them.

Ramos, responding to Mayor Chiong's statement that the public hearing may have been held in the barangay, said the town has an obligation to answer for consequences from coal ash dumping.

The Municipal Government, through the council, should call for a public hearing since any effects will have an impact not only on the environment, but also the health and livelihood of residents.

Ramos pointed out that RA 9003 also requires a dumpsite should be at least 50 meters away from any source of water.

She asked why an ECC was issued, when there's an ongoing case on the property.

Ramos, along with the Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. and other group, had filed a petition for an environmental protection order against the DENR 7, EMB 7, the governments of Naga and Toledo, the Provincial Government and operators of coal-fired power plants all over Cebu.


They complained about the allegedly indiscriminate dumping of coal ash.
The DENR 7 and EMB 7 submitted yesterday a motion to RTC Judge Marilyn Yap, asking the court to exclude them as respondents to the case.

Lawyer Tranne Lee Digao-Ferrer, who represents DENR and EMB, said in a separate interview the two environment agencies shouldn't be included, as these agencies make sure companies meet environmental standards set by law.

The agencies said there can be no legal right against the authority "that makes the law on which the right depends."

Like Ramos, Vince Cinches of the Fisherfolk Development Center said he will also write DENR to ask about the reported ECC for the dumping of coal ash in the former resort the Province has purchased.

He said environmentalists have a reason to be hopeful because a resolution was filed in Congress yesterday calling for a 50-year moratorium on coal-fired power plants.

Representative Manny Pacquiao, he pointed out, "is consistent in his campaign against polluters and those that can cause climate change like coal power plants".

Their team is willing to present scientific data to support their observation that coal ash poses a health hazard and has been liked to respiratory diseases in parts of Cebu.

As for being called an obstructionist, he said: "No amount of name-calling can clear them from the anomalous, fraudulent purchase of the Balili property."


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