Solon presses case vs execs behind ECCs for suspended Manila Bay reclamation projects
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should file cases before officers responsible for releasing Environmental Certificate Compliance (ECC) to firms doing reclamation at the Manila Bay, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.
During the deliberations on DENR’s proposed budget for 2024 at the House Committee on Appropriations, Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel asked Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga if the department has plans to sue the officers involved, given that Manila Bay reclamation operations have been suspended recently.
Loyzaga explained that while they are investigating if there are irregularities in issuing an ECC, such a certificate is not tantamount to a permit that would allow a firm to do reclamation projects.
“Perhaps, Mr. Chair, the best way to respond to the Honorable congressman is to reiterate, the ECC is not a permit, it is a planning tool, and therefore it is dynamic and may be changed at any point when a correction needs to made and whether a management issue needs to be addressed,” she said.
“So in terms of the ECCs, there are conditions that have to be met, and we are now investigating whether those that are actually operating have complied with all the conditions under the ECCs and area clearances,” she added.
Manuel replied that he understands that an ECC is not a permit — adding that the DENR should be at the forefront of defending Manila Bay.
“Mr. Chair I think malinaw naman po na hindi permit ang ECC pero kung meron po kasing government agency na dapat nasa vanguard ng pangangalaga ng kalikasan, DENR po ‘yon. So do’n po sa mga ongoing or nasimulan nang projects, again po meron po bang plano or napag-isip isipan po ba ng DENR na mag-impose ng sanctions doon sa pumirma sa ECC?” he asked.
(Mr. Chair, I think it is clear that the ECC is not a permit, but if there is a government agency that should be the vanguard in caring for the environment, that is DENR. So for the ongoing or suspended projects, does the DENR plan to impose sanctions on those who signed the ECC?)
Loyzaga reiterated that an investigation is underway, but their focus currently is to review the ECC and the conditions.
She also clarified that the permits or notices to proceed were handed out by the Philippine Reclamation Authority, not DENR.
“If there were misdeeds, if there were any kind of infraction in terms of the rules, we will certainly be able to look into possible sanctions. However, at this point, our emphasis is really on reviewing the ECCs and their conditions, of which Mr. Chair, I have to say there are many and substantive conditions that are actually positive in terms of environmental management,” Loyzaga said.
“If there were compliance to this, the different proponents would be somehow within whatever it is that they were granted by the PRA. We are not the office that actually issues the notices to proceed — those notices come from the Philippine Reclamation Authority. We are merely part of a process which establishes the planning basis for whether in fact environmentally-certain activities can be sustained in terms of the ecosystems,” she added.
To end his interpellation, Manuel said that the DENR should not rely on suspensions only, as people responsible for the damaging projects to Manila Bay should be brought to courts.
Last August 9, it was announced by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself that all Manila Bay reclamation projects, except for one, have been suspended pending a review.
Marcos’ decision came after environmentalists expressed concerns that the projects have led to flooding in different areas, exacerbated by the recent onslaught of Typhoon Egay.
Aside from environmentalists, the United States Embassy in the Philippines — whose office is located near Manila Bay — also noted the irony in allowing reclamation by a company linked to the China Communications Construction Company, which is responsible for the West Philippine Sea’s artificial air and naval bases.