ECC process flawed, according to envi NGO

February 27th, 2013 by

DAVAO CITY –  The sudden issuance in a conditional  Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) project in Tampakan, South Cotabato  is symptomatic of the weakness in the country’s environmental law, said the Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (IDIS).

IDIS Executive Director Ann Fuertes took to task the latest procedural manual of the Philippine Environmental Impact System (EIS)  which she said is  viewed by many environmentalists as “ a step backward in terms of environmental regulation.”

“This ‘conditional ECC’ is the result of a streamlined EIS process which was  made possible by a the revision of a DENR Department Administrative Order , resulting in a law that is biased for investment.”, Fuertes said.

In 2010, IDIS commissioned the Sentro ng Alternatibong  Panligal  (SALIGAN) to conduct a legal study on the impact of the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the EIS system.

The study, which was funded by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), compared the  current DENR Department Administrative Order (DAO) 30-2003 with its previous iteration, the DAO 37-96.

According to the study, DAO 30-2003 differed from DAO 37-96 in that it lacked teeth to enforce the mandatory requirements in the issuance of an ECC.

“In particular, the study found out that DAO 30-2003 had significantly weakened the provisions which were designed to strengthen public participation and social acceptability in environmental projects.” , Fuertes revealed.

As an example, Fuertes pointed out that DAO 30-2003 has removed the mandatory nature of public hearings, relegating the decisions to conduct a hearing to the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) –  a  scenario that most development workers are not comfortable with.

“The study even interviewed respondents which revealed that these public hearings- or scoping sessions, as they call them- are often token in nature with facilitators asking only safe questions.”, she said.

To compound the problem, the DAO has also changed the definition of stakeholders to mean only the entities who are directly and significantly affected by the project or undertakings.

“This means that other communities or groups who are affected but not in a direct manner are considered outsiders and excluded from the consultation process.”,she said.

“As it stands, the DAO 30-2003 seems to promote an investment-friendly climate rather than a preventive approach in ensuring that the project will not cause a significant negative environmental impact.”

Fuertes called on the Aquino administration to revise the law. “We need to amend the EIS law to ensure that it goes back to its original intent which is to uphold the precautionary principle. By doing this, we ensure that the EIS law becomes preventive and not prescriptive. Only then can we prevent other destructive, resource extractive and socially unacceptable projects from operating in the country in the future.”, she said. (#)

Watersheds, our treasures

February 11th, 2013 by

THAT our city can still boast of biodiversity that other cities have long lost is a pride our generation and the future generations can hold dear, but only for as long as each preceding generation takes care of it for the next generation to enjoy.

This is apparent in the biodiversity found in the Talomo-Lipadas and Panigan-Tamugan watersheds in a study conducted by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) as commissioned by the Interface Development Interventions Inc. last year.

A draft of the report has already been made although the final copy will still be launched on March 23 in time for the Watershed Summit initiated by Idis in Davao City.

The study, a Resource and Socio-Economic Assessment (RSEA) of the two major watersheds, saw biologists and student volunteers living in the forests for weeks on end to trap and inventory bats, birds, frogs, and rodents, the key indicators of an area’s biodiversity.

As gleaned from past and the most field studies, the watersheds have at least 124 species of birds at Mt. Talomo and Panigan between 1997-2012.
“Sixty six (or 53 percent) of these birds are Philippine endemic, which is 40 percent of the country’s total for endemic birds (169 species). However, if we consider only the Mindanao Island’s share of Phil endemic species (94), the watersheds contain an impressive 70 percent of these. Also, over half (24) of the 45 Mindanao endemic species are living in the watersheds,” the draft report reads.

The same diversity is observed in mammals, particularly rodents and bats.
As the report said, six out of the nine Mindanao endemic mammals at Mt. Sicao still in the Talomo-Lipadas watershed are rats and squirrels.

A total of eight species in two families of bats were found –Pteropodidae (fruit-eating bats) and the Rhinolopidae (insect-eating bats). Of these, seven Genera were documented.

“All except one (bats) are Philippine endemic, with a single species restricted only to Mindanao. Called Mindanao fruit bat Megaerops wetmorei,” the draft report reads. “It is the most common species captured in nets (6 individuals) at the Dipterocarp Forest next to the Short-nose fruit bat Cynopterus brachyotis (8). The Mindanao fruit bat is the only IUCN threatened bat species sampled at Sicao. It is classified under the vulnerable category mainly because its preferred habitat, the Dipterocarp Forest, is slowly disappearing.

The disappearing forest is what distresses PEF Executive Director Dennis Joseph I. Salvador the most. After all, their work to conserve the Philippine Eagle requires that the whole ecosystem is conserved to sustain the life cycle of eagles.

But moreso, the PEF has reapeatedly said, the Philippine Eagle is but the barometer of the sustainability of our environment, as it requires lush green forests that are home to healthy forest creatures to survive in the wild. In the same way that everyone requires a lush, green watershed to continue providing the clean and clear water Dabawenyos continue to enjoy straight out of their faucets.

“If water is life, a watershed is the vault (or safe or treasure chest) that holds this very valuable resource together and keeps it from being wasted. It is an asset passed on to us by our parents and which we need to pass on to our children as capital for their future – that’s what a watershed is,” Salvador said when asked to define the importance of watersheds to Davao City.

That is why both Salvador and IDIS executive director Ann Fuertes are relieved that the Talomo-Lipadas and Panigan-Tamugan watersheds are still healthy although threatened.

“Guapo pud nga daghan na makita na endemic species (It’s also heartening to know that there are many endemic species thriving there),” Fuertes told Sun.Star Davao.

Davao’s Watersheds

Davao City has eight watershed areas straddled by its major rivers aside from the biggest of them all, the Davao River. These are: Sibulan River, Lipadas River, Talomo River, Tamugan River, Cugan River, Suawawan River, Matina River, and Bunawan River.

The Tamugan-Lipadas and Tamugan-Panigan are of prime importance because these have been identified as Davao’s main water sources and comprises the first phase of watershed delineation by the city government. Thus, the focus on the two watersheds.

As described, Talomo-Lipadas include two catchment rivers covering a total land area 38,300 hectares made up of 45 of the city’s 182 barangays. The highest peak is Mt. Talomo, which is at the northeastern region of Mt. Apo Natural Park.

Predominantly volcanic rocks, the watershed has slopes and ravines and vegetation are primary and secondary forest, but only in the headwaters.
Lowland dipterocarp forests are now relegated to ravines and riverways after the long decades of logging.

There are no more forest stands in the lowland areas as there have already been converted to plantations and agriculture.

On the other hand, Tamugan-Panigan has several catchment areas although the only large water basin here is the Tamugan River. The Tamugan River and the other tributaries all drain directly to the Davao River. The Tamugan-Panigan covers 18,830 hectares.

It’s highest elevation is at the headwaters of Laling Creek at 1,889 meters above sea level (masl), while its most prominent peak is Mt. Tipolog, with 1,340 m elevation.

Threatened

But as the report says, the biodiversity is threatened because Dipterocarp Forests are slowly disappearing. Along with it, Davao’s water.

“We have very clean and abundant water supply in Davao because of our aquifers and watersheds have retained their integrity and quality. The Talomo and Tamugan watersheds, for instance, still harbors a good number of different threatened species. These watersheds exhibit a very high degree of species endemism: 82 percent for mammals, 68 percent for reptiles and amphibians, and 53 percent for birds,” Salvador said.

“Some of the frogs we found in a recent study commissioned by IDIS were ‘undescribed’ and may even be new species. Frogs are excellent indicators of environmental health as they are highly localized and very sensitive to changes in their environments. But the integrity of our watersheds are beginning to fray at its edges,” he added.

Still Fuertes is upbeat on major steps ahead with the completion of the study, as in it, they can present to the city government solid scientific proofs of what has to be conserved and preserved.

“Dugang ni nga argument to do more efforts for the conservation of the eight watersheds (This study contributes to the assertion that there’s a need to do more for the conservation of the eight watersheds),” Fuerte said.

Idis, incidentally, is the non-government organization member of the Watershed Management Council, which was created from the passage of the Watershed Code of Davao City.

The WMC, which meets at least once a month, already gathered the commitment of 40 barangays within the two watersheds to clear their riverbanks of habitation and ensure that buffer zones are respected and that no future habitation will be put up along riverbanks.
The barangays that committed, however, still have to make true this promise.

As of October 2012, the City Environment and Natural Resources Office had set aside P1.6-million for delineation of the six watershed areas; which will also be used as a tool to define which activities are allowed and which are prohibited within these areas.

The first phase was to start November 5 and should have been finished by now, although no such report has yet been disclosed.

The total amount needed to delineate all eight is pegged at P5-million.
While non-government groups are still struggling to paint a convincing picture for government to act fast on conserving its watersheds, human population is fast encroaching.

“The average rates by which population is increasing indicate that human occupation of the watersheds is growing rapidly. Using NSO data for example, the number of people living inside the watersheds appeared to have increased to nearly three folds (260 percent) from 1970 to 2010 with an average annual growth rate of 3.25 percent. This also means an increase in human density from 2 persons/ha in 1970 to 7 persons/ha in 2010,” the draft report reads.

Of note is the rapid growth in population of five communities close to the forests: Barangays Eden, Daliao Plantation, Tamayong, Carmen and Tambobong.

“The Davao City Watershed Code is a positive step in mitigating the adverse impacts of humans on our watersheds. This, however, needs more teeth and funding to really work. For instance, it is silent on the matter of private water wells used in or for business/profit.It is, after all, water owned by the State (read: ours) and re-packaged and sold to us in a different form. These outfits basically drain our aquifers for free. We have just taken our water resource for granted. Not even our local utility company invests enough on protecting and restoring these watersheds,” Salvador said, somehow repeating what has been said before but which seems to be not getting its due attention and quick action.
In the meantime, elections is just around the corner again, and Fuertes fears that what has been started will not even be carried over.

Through the short three years that Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio has served, she stood strongly for the protection of the environment, bar none.

Vice Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte as mayor may have ruled for the environment several times but has also been known to yield to some issues as well.
This is among the reason why Idis has initiated the Watershed Summit to ensure that what has been agreed on and drafted as concrete actions under the Watershed Code will be implemented.

“We need an assurance na kung unsa ang nahitabo karon, mapadayon sa next eladership (We have to get that assurance that what has been achieved to-date will be continued under the next leadership),” Fuertes said.

“Indeed, it is convenient to attribute floods as acts of God rather than the work of men. In time, we’ll get a lot of water when we don’t need it and none when we need it. It’s not doomsday prepper talk, it’s just what it is,” Salvador said.  (STELLA ESTREMERA, SUNSTAR DAVAO)

Exec policy on aerial spray ban pushed

February 8th, 2013 by

ANTI-AERIAL spraying activists, commemorating the 6th anniversary of the passage of the Davao City Anti-Aerial Spraying Ordinance, asked the Aquino administration on Thursday to issue a definite executive policy on the banning of the dangerous agricultural practice in Mindanao’s monocrop plantations.

“Since 2010, several national inter-agency meetings have already been conducted to discuss the issue and come up with a unified policy but until now, there is still no official government stand on this controversial issue,” said Mary Ann Fuertes, executive director of Interface Development Interventions (Idis).

Idis has been supporting the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Maas) grassroots campaign against aerial spraying in plantations in Southern Mindanao.

According to Fuertes, President Benigno Aquino III had instructed the Presidential Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to take the lead in coming up with recommendations, but until now it has yet to issue its report.

“We were told that the PCSD had decided to conduct a cost-benefit study of the aerial spraying practice to aid them in making their policy recommendations. And yet, as of December 2012, there is still no study being conducted since it still lacks funds from the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” she said.

But for Maas president Dagohoy Magaway, the PCSD’s insistence on the conduct of another study seeks to reduce this issue to a question of economics.

“Why is the government focusing on the economic aspects of this case when the real issue here is our right to a clean and healthy environment?” Magaway said.

Maas and its supporters are against aerial spraying because the pesticide drift coming from the spray planes often hits the communities situated near monocrop plantations, contaminating the water supply and causing sickness in the local population.

Magaway pointed out that even the Department of Health (DOH) has released a study documenting the negative impact of pesticide drift on the health of the residents in the communities.

The DOH study was also instrumental in convincing the Commission on Human Rights to also issue their resolution supporting the recommendation to ban aerial spraying in plantations.

Both national agencies issued their recommendations during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations but until now, no direct action has been undertaken.

“Do not reduce us to merely an economic issue. More than anything, this is an issue of human rights,” Magaway said. “Environmental justice must be served.”

Both groups are appealing to President Aquino to issue an executive order for a temporary moratorium while the PCSD impact study is being conducted.