Environmental impact assessment guidelines not enough to protect the environment, says law group

April 29th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –  The current guidelines on environmental impact assessment is no longer sufficient in protecting the environment, according to the alternative law group SALIGAN, in their legal research which was presented to the public, Thursday in Davao City.

“Department Administrative Order (DAO)  2003-30 and its operation guidelines issued by the previous government has diluted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) System to the point that it cannot protect the environment. The end result is that the EIS has not been placed by environmental agencies  in their priority with respect to implementation, according to the study which was conducted by Atty. Raymond Salas of the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) Mindanao.

The EIS law requires all government and corporate companies to prepare an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for any environmentally critical project (ECP) or  any activity situated within  environmentally critical areas (ECA) to  determine the project’s impact  on the quality of the environment.

According to the study,  DAO 30-2003, which was issued by the Arroyo government to serve as the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the EIS law,  is  inconsistent with the  precautionary principle of the EIS law.

The previous AO, DAO 37-96, had been generally accepted because it addressed the demand of environmental civil society organizations for mandatory consultations, social acceptability and other environmental safeguards in the EIS System.

But DAO 30-2003 changed all that. “Under the new DAO, only projects that pose potential significant impact to the environment shall be required to secure ECC’s. Clearly, this goes against the principle that an environmentally critical project (ECP) or a project in an environmentally critical area (ECA) is required to secure an ECC.”, said Atty. Salas. “ By stating that only those projects that pose potential significant impact to the environment, it directly misconstrues the letter of the law.”, he added.

The study also pointed out that DAO 30-2003 created “another layer of classification over what the laws provided. Instead of the clear definitions and enumerations of ECPs and ECAs, it lists another specific criteria for determining which the EIS system covers”.

This, according to the legal study, is “tantamount to ultra vires and grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction”.

The study also took note of other glaring flaws in the DAO:

  • ·         “The new AO withers down the previous DAO 37-1996 provisions of public participation and social acceptability.  The conduct of mandatory public hearing is now limited to environmentally critical projects (ECP).[1] This mandatory character is further dropped when it provides, ‘unless otherwise determined by EMB’. Public hearing now becomes EMB’s discretion and stakeholders should be thankful for any token consultation project proponents conduct.”
  • ·         The new Order even changed the definition of stakeholders. Stakeholders are now defined as entities who may be directly and significantly affected by the project or undertaking[2]. Undoubtedly, it is a step backward to the more inclusive definition in DAO 37-96, that stakeholders are persons who may be significantly affected by the project or undertaking, such as, but not limited to, members of the local community, industry, local government units (LGU), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and peoples organizations.[3] Restricting the definition would practically make other members of the civil society who are affected, but not in a direct manner, an outsider and should not be part of the process.
  • ·         “Moreover under the new DAO, not all projects with ECCs are required to form multipartite monitoring teams (MMT).  An MMT is the multisectoral body set up to monitor the proponent’s compliance to the conditions of the ECC.  MMTs are now only required for environmentally critical projects and MMT reports are only required to be submitted twice a year and not quarterly. “
  • ·         “What is more alarming is that the DAO places unto the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) a processing timeframe within which decisions on ECCs shall be made. If no decision is made within a given time (30-180 days depending on the project), the application is deemed automatically approved and an ECC should be issued.  Given that the EMB is understaffed, it is doubtful whether EMB could realistically meet the designated deadlines.
  • ·         “The new Order likewise does not improve on the accreditation process of EIA preparers.  This has been a source of corruption since anybody could just sign the Accountability Statement of the EIS of a particular project that is submitted to the EMB.  But the EIS was in reality prepared by EMB personnel or worse copied from other EIS prepared by qualified preparers.”

The study recommended that the EIS law and its rules and regulations should be amended to become relevant with the changes in laws such as disaster risk reduction, climate change and environmental ordinances. The changes should be brought about with a view towards incorporating  environmental principles , precautionary principle and sustainable development.

IDIS Policy Advocacy Officer Chinkie Pelino said that given these findings the Aquino  government should take steps to remedy the flaws. “ Accompanying this legal research is a draft Administrative Order amending the present DAO 30-2003 and reverting it to the previous DAO 36-1997 with revisions strengthening the environmental impact statements and assessment system. We hope to send this to PNoy so that he will be able to act on this promptly”, she said.

The public presentation was sponsored by  the Water Management Coordinating Council together with IDIS in commemoration of Earth Day.  This is the second in the series of legal researches that IDIS has commissioned from environmental lawyers  for the benefit of the public.  (PR)

Group urges ‘think green’ for Easter

April 20th, 2011 by

Environmental groups are calling on Catholics to reflect on the sorry state of watersheds in the southern city of Davao while observing Holy Week.

“The redemptive nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not only for healing our broken relationships with God and our fellow men but also for restoring our damaged relationship with the rest of God’s creation,” said Lia Jasmin Esquillo, executive director of Interface Development Interventions, an environmental advocacy group.

Esquillo urged Catholics to pray and hope that Davao’s mayor reconstitutes the Watershed Management Council and enforce a code to protect the city’s water sources.

The Watershed Code identifies areas under threat in the city’s upland watersheds that must be protected, conserved and managed.

The absence of definite boundaries has sowed confusion among farmers and plantation owners that have conflicting views as to where the areas under threat are.

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar also joined calls to include “eco-centered reflection” of Christ’s passion and death this Holy Week.

“How do we translate having a full life in Davao today, considering we are surrounded by a lot of threats that have implications on public health?” he asked.

Local environmentalists have voiced alarm at the diminishing quality of upland watersheds that are slowly being replaced by “monocrop” plantations.

The poor quality of the watersheds has been blamed as one of the causes of the flooding that hit Davao during torrential rains earlier this month.  (Mick Basa, UCANews)

State-of-the–art chem lab a boon for local environmental watchdogs

April 4th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY – Concerned groups at the forefront of the campaign to preserve Davao’s  environment welcomed the opening of the Chemistry Analytical and Research Laboratory (CARL) of the Ateneo de Davao University last March 10, 2011.

Executive Director Lia Esquillo of the Interface Development Interventions, Inc (IDIS) said that the newly opened scientific facility is a boon to independent researchers, policymakers and environment watchdogs as it will be helpful in providing with accurate data that they need. “This is a development which we welcome in behalf of environmentalists everywhere. As Davao strengthens its position as an environmentally conscious city, it becomes imperative that it should also have the facilities which can help develop analytic methods to support the City’s environmental  regulatory activities”, she said.

“In 2007, we were part of a multi-sectoral study that monitored pesticide presence in Davao’s rivers. But the existing laboratories then had limited capacity on what pesticides to detect, not to mention the high cost of testing. With CARL, practically all kinds of pesticides and other chemicals could be detected and we could onlyh hope AdDu would provide affordable rates since the public needs these kind of data.”, she added.

Esquillo was  present  to witness the opening of the state-of-the-art laboratory at the Ateneo de Davao University.  Of particular interest for Esquillo and the other environmental advocates present at the activity  was the latest gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) model, the GCMS-QP2010 ULTRA, which the only one of its kind in the Philippines. The GCMS represents the latest technology on pesticide analysis and can be used for a variety of applications like environmental profiling and geosciences applications.

The opening  of CARL comes at an opportune moment even as the regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now  studying plans to monitor the level of pesticides in the air.

During a dialogue with environmental civil society groups late last January 2011, Sampulna  had welcomed the idea of conducting regular monitoring on water, air and sediments in coordination with concerned agencies. At the end of the dialogue, he committed to buy equipment to help DENR monitor pesticides in the Davao region.

“Perhaps a collaborative effort  can be made between the DENR and the CARL- Ateneo  which could point the way for better monitoring of the extent of pesticide contamination in the region”, Esquillo said. (Published April 2, 2011, Daily Mirror)