OVERDUE AND UNRESOLVED: Policy Bottlenecks in Watershed Management
Nature knows no political boundaries. As we set in place local policies to safeguard our watersheds, there are existing national laws that affect us locally. At IDIS, we also aim to influence national environment policies that impact our local efforts on watershed protection.
1. Water Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree 1067)
Existing Law: The Water Code of the Philippines was passed in 1976 but until now it has not been fully implemented. The law creates and recognizes the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) as the sole agency mandated to regulate and allow/disallow permits to extract water resources.
Problem: The NWRB has not devolved its functions to local government agencies to help in regulating and issuing permits. Several LGUs tried to enact local policies on water resource management; however, the NWRB has been blocking its implementation. Davao City passed its Water Code in 2001 but until now it has not been implemented because NWRB has been questioning its provisions and has not agreed to deputize the LGU even after several negotiations conducted since 2001. Given NWRB’s limited staff assigned to perform its monitoring functions (only one extension office covering Mindanao), the need for strict monitoring of illegal, unregulated and overextraction of water sources remain unaddressed.
Ideal: The Water Code is deregulated, decentralized and streamlined to the LGUs. NWRB delegates its authority to the local government unit who has the local knowledge and can perform the monitoring and regulation functions well, thereby ensuring its water sources are protected.
Call for Action: At the local level, ensure that the Water Resources Management Board is functional. At the national level, NWRB should conduct a dialogue with LGAs and LGUs and solicit concrete recommendations on how to strengthen the implementation of the Water Code.
2. Environmental Impact Assessment (Presidential Decree 1586 ratified on June 11 1978)
Existing Policy: The Philippine Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) System mandates all government agencies, non-government and private corporations with projects or undertakings that may significantly affect the quality of the environment in the country to be assessed.
Problem: Inconsistencies on social acceptability and public participation as public hearing is limited to environmental critical projects (ECPs) only, or those determined by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). EMB has the sole discretion to decide on the conduct of the said activity but achieving social acceptability requires inclusiveness of stakeholders and other agencies’ inputs through public consultations and hearings. LGUs likewise have limited participation eventhough environmental projects are fundamentally local in scope and affects local communities. Due to the centralized administration of environmental assessment policies, there is also lacking in monitoring during construction and actual operations of environmental projects to check compliance to what were stipulated in their EIS.
Other glaring flaws on the EIA based on IDIS / SALIGAN legal review of the new DAO:
- Public hearing now becomes EMB’s discretion and stakeholders should be thankful for any token consultation conducted by the project proponent.
- Restricting the definition of stakeholders to “entities who may be directly and significantly affected by the project” would practically make other members of civil society who are affected, but not in a direct manner, an outsider and excluded from the process.
- MMTs are now only required for environmentally critical projects and MMT reports are only required to be submitted twice a year and not quarterly.
- Given that the EMB is understaffed, it is doubtful whether EMB could realistically meet the designated deadlines of 30-180 days, otherwise the application is deemed automatically approved and an ECC issued.
Ideal: The EIS is strengthened with clear provisions on broadening social acceptability and public participation, along with “no automatic approval”. Multipartite Monitoring Teams should be created and properly facilitated by the EMB.
Call for Action: For EMB to review the provisions of the IRR and address all other issues that affect social acceptability, public participation, strict monitoring of projects and imposition of penalties and sanctions to environment polluters / violators.
3. Aerial Spraying
Existing Policy: Davao City passed the Ban Aerial Spray Ordinance to protect its citizens from this environmental and health-damaging technology in agricultural plantations. However, after many years of legal battle, the Supreme Court declared the ordinance unconstitutional in 2016.
Problem: While some companies voluntarily stopped the practice in Davao City, aerial spraying is still widely used in the rest of Mindanao.
Ideal: A national law banning aerial spraying is passed and the 50 meter buffer zone is enforced by DENR in agricultural plantations. National government agencies like DENR – EMB and DA – FPA should collaborate and work with local government agencies and LGUs in regulating this practice, should impose penalties / sanctions to violators and for DOH to address community health concerns.
Call for Action: Mapping of areas where aerial spraying is still practiced to check presence of and health status of communities, research on the environmental and health impacts of aerial spraying, and further research to cover wider scope of pesticides monitoring in air, water and soil to cover all agricultural areas with existing plantations.