Mining gets blamed for transfer of PCSD to DENR

By Cheryl A. Galili

HEARSAYS AND unconfirmed reports are blaming the province’s mining industry as the reason why President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 734 transferring the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Rumors have it that top executives of some mining companies have gone to the DENR and Malacañang to complain against the PCSD’s dawdling action over applications for endorsements.

Though indirectly admitting this, DENR Sec. Joselito Atienza confirmed in a local radio interview that indeed, personalities from a mining company investing in Palawan have gone to the President. He refused to disclose their names, claiming what is important now is the PCSD will be guided under the management of the DENR.

As of press time, Governor Joel T. Reyes, the chairman of the Council, has not given any statement regarding the matter. Calls made by the Palawan Times to his information officer, Rolando E. Bonoan, Jr., were unsuccessful to obtain any comment from him.

But Vice Governor David A. Ponce de Leon, the two House representatives, Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, representatives of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) do not sit well with the new development.

“I think it violates the legislative intent and the spirit of the law ,” Ponce de Leon told Philippine News Agency (PNA), referring to Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan, which he himself co-authored with former speaker Ramon V. Mitra, Jr. and toiled to pass in the House of Representatives on February 6, 1992 and by the Senate on February 7, 1992. Former president Corazon C. Aquino signed it into law on June 19, 1992.

The SEP is considered a landmark legislation that aims for the sustainable development of Palawan, which is known to be one of the most biologically and culturally diverse provinces in the county, as well as in the world, Ponce de Leon said.

In his newly-launched book on the SEP entitled “Caring for the Last Frontier: The SEP Story,” the vice governor described it as an “urgent measure for the protection of Palawan’s God-given bounties that merit the full support of Palaweños who are its principal and immediate beneficiaries.”

The President’s EO was received by the Council on June 27, during its regular meeting that was held in Manila. It was signed by Arroyo on June 18, a day before the SEP celebrated its 16th anniversary.

“The EO came out without prior notice to us,” he disclosed, stating that per the memorandum, the President is transferring PCSD under the DENR “in order to have a concerted and well-coordinated effort in formulating policies, as well as planning and implementing programs and projects of the PCSD).”

Second Palawan District Rep. Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra, on the other hand, said he doubts if the PCSD’s transfer is “legally feasible sans amendatory legislation to the SEP law.”

“We also cannot see the practical consideration for such move,” the young lawmaker told Palawan Times.

“I really have no idea,” he replied when asked what would President Arroyo’s real reason for ordering the transfer. “We will continue to function. We will oppose this and have already verbally relayed this to the legislative liaisons head,” Mitra added.

First Palawan District Rep. Antonio C. Alvarez also said the same thing when inquired by Palawan Times through a text message.

Obviously irritated by the news, his reply also included the Pinoy catchphrase “ewan” or to be interpreted, an exasperated “I don’t know.” But Mitra said Alvarez had already commented much earlier than them.

Many from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), the implementing arm of the Council, said the transfer “clearly defeats the purpose of the law” and obviously entails a lot more than just an EO. They ask what would happen to the PCSD budget and its staff.

Alex Marcaida, information officer to the PCSDS, said the employees do not know whether the transfer would merit for some of them to be assigned in other areas outside the province. Being under the DENR means it has sanctions over them administratively and operationally.

Ponce de Leon said that prior to enacting the SEP, they did not even consider the DENR because the intention is for it to become an independent policy-making body.

The “indifferences,” he said, were the primary reason why the PCSD signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at the onset, which defines their tasks and responsibilities.

Using mining as an example, the vice governor said the DENR has its own rules on exploration that do not require local permits, but the PCSD is very clear, the SEP clearances and endorsements must be secured by those who propose to operate.

He said that the issuance of the EO will “surely affect” the independence of the action and review processes of the PCSD, which he reiterated, is not consistent with the mandate of the SEP.

“The future erosion of the independence of the PCSD, to my mind, will be substantially affected by this executive order,” Ponce de Leon furthered.

In its next regular meeting, he said the EO issue will be taken up. At the moment, he has started preparing a position paper which he will submit to the Council.

From the NGOs, Cleofe P. Bernardino, executive director of the Palawan NGO Network, Inc., said the transfer is a “challenge to all Palaweños, especially to the leaders of the province to show that they can manage their own environment.”

She said that there is a need to focus on administrative concerns, particularly on the issue of mining. Bernardino urged local government officials to assert that the province should be left with the responsibility of managing its environment.(PalawanTimes)


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