Cimatu overturns Gina Lopez’s order on ECC issuance
MANILA — New environment secretary Roy Cimatu has placed the authority to issue environmental compliance certificates (ECC) back to the director and regional directors of line agency Environmental Management Bureau, a move civil society groups fear will signal a return to lax or corrupt practices in the approval of environmentally destructive projects.
In issuing Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No. 2017-18 dated July 3, Cimatu effectively overturned DAO No. 2017-04, an order issued in February by his predecessor Gina Lopez limiting the authority to approve ECCs, both for environmentally critical projects and non-critical projects, only to the DENR secretary upon the recommendation of the EMB director and undersecretary for legal affairs.
Lopez was the initial pick by President Duterte for environment secretary, holding the post from July 2016 until May 2017. When she was rejected by the Commission on Appointments, Duterte appointed former military chief Cimatu in her place.
Lopez had issued DAO No. 2017-04 in light of a review and proposed revision of the department’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) policies.
Lopez’s order amended the department’s “Manual of Authorities on Technical Matters” with regard to ECC issuance. Under the manual, either the environment secretary or the EMB director has the authority to approve ECCs for environmentally critical projects; and either the EMB director or regional director has authority to issue ECCs for non-environmentally critical projects.
Cimatu, in his order, reinstated the original policy on ECC approval and scrapped Lopez’s order. ”In the interest of service and in order to expedite the issuance of the ECC in the regional level, consistent with the directive of the President to fast-track the issuance of government permits and licenses, [DAO] No. 2017-04 is hereby suspended indefinitely,” Cimatu’s administrative order read.
An ECC is issued to certify that a proposed project will not cause a significant negative environmental impact, as validated by the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee.
Environmentally critical projects refer to infrastructure projects that have high potential for significant negative environmental impact, such as mining or other extractive industries. Lopez, during her short administration, courted controversy for orders to close or suspend mines.
“This is consistent with the President’s directive to fast track the issuance of permits, licenses and other documents issued by government, and can also be viewed as our contribution to making the country more investor-friendly,” Cimatu said, in a statement on his order.
Last May, it was reported that new businesses and construction projects, including housing for survivors of super-typhoon “Yolanda,” were delayed due to Lopez’s order to centralize ECC approval to her office.
But several groups have also aired concerns about Cimatu’s move, fearing laxity over environmentally-damaging projects.
“This new direction is seen to slacken project application procedures that will open up conditions for extractive and ruinous economic projects and investments that are detrimental to the country’s environment and natural resources,” said Owen Migraso, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns. “Decentralizing the ECC approval without reforming the DENR-EMB is tantamount to aggravating environmental problems that the country is already suffering from,” Migraso added.
Meanwhile, leftist fisherfolk group Pamalakaya urged Cimatu not to “ruin Lopez’s efforts.”
“We are not incognizant to the fact that big-time developers and mining companies manage to acquire environmental certificates despite their destructive type of business because of their secret connivance with corrupt DENR regional directors,” said Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap, in a statement.
“We fear that development aggression projects like the Palawan underwater-theme park, among others, would be implemented smooth as silk if proponents and developers could easily obtain environmental permits through the usual ‘payola’ and ‘under the table’ system,” Hicap added. SFM
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.