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)