environmental issues

DENR insists Zambales jetty project legal; environmentalists slam ‘deception’

Joann Manabat
DENR insists Zambales jetty project legal; environmentalists slam ‘deception’

NO DREDGING? The Save Zambales Kalikasan Movement took this drone photo on January 11 of what it claims is dredging activity on the River Alusiis in Zambales province but environment and local officials deny its claim.

Courtesy of Save Zambales Kalikasan Movement

The Central Luzon environmental clearance office says the jetty port ECC does not include any river activity, but the San Felipe town mayor claims 'clean up' has DENR nod

PAMPANGA, Philippines – The ongoing jetty port/causeway road project in Zambales province is covered by legal documents and complied with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to expedite implementation of infrastructure projects, the acting regional chief for environmental permits told Rappler on Wednesday, January 18.

Region 3 (Central Luzon) EMB Clearance and Permitting Division officer-in-charge Raldy Pagador said the contractor, AGN Trading, went through an online process to expedite clearances. 

In an interview with Rappler, Pagador acknowledged that  the EMB issued an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) without an environmental impact study (EIS).

But he said this was because the jetty port was categorized under a non-environmentally critical project (non-ECP). 

The project also did not need a public hearing because its environmental impact was only “minimal,” the official added. 

“Pinabilis ang processing para hindi ma-ARTA (Anti-Red Tape Authority). Yan ang utos ni Presidente, na pabilisin ang pag-process ng mga papeles. Pero wala naman bina-bypass. Kapag hindi kumpleto ang papel, hindi yan maapprove,” said Pagador. 

(We expedited the process so we would not be hailed before the ARTA. That was the President’s order, to hasten the processing of documents. But we did not bypass any step. If documents were not complete, there would have been no approval.)

“Hindi naman nirerequire ang EIS pag online eh. Kasi nandyan lang siya (jetty port project) sa category B ng non-ECP. Yan yung ginawa ni President Duterte para yung mga kliente natin hindi mahirapan,” he added.

(An EIS is not required if you apply online and because the project is under category B, a non-environmentally critical project. That’s what President Duterte did so our clients do not have a hard time.)

Land dispute

The Save Zambales Kalikasan Movement, composed of environmentalists, residents, fisherfolk, resort and restaurant owners, has been calling for an immediate halt on the ongoing construction of the jetty port and the dredging activity at River Alusiis on the boundary of San Narciso and San Felipe.

Pagador, however,  told Rappler his department investigated complaints and concluded it was more about a land dispute.

SZKM president Ricardo Reyes called the DENR’s move a display of “impunity”.

He also charged that San Felipe Mayor Leo Farrales, the contractor, and the DENR deceived environmentalists on January 7, by putting up a fence aroud the disputed area on the same day protesters were asked to attend a preliminary arbitration meeting at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office.

“Our lawyer was already at the CENRO about our protest against the jetty port for mining when he called us and said that the meeting was postponed because all the DENR officers were in the field,” Reyes added.

SZKM sent a letter to the DENR on January 12 requesting the cancellation of AGN’s ECC, claiming the private firm was using it to mask dredging activities at the Alusiis River.

Hindi permit ang ECC, planning tool lang yan. Kapag dredging, sa LGU kumukuha. Sa dagat yung pier eh, hindi kasama yan (river). Sa dagat yung ECC,” Pagador replied.

(The ECC is not a dredging permit, just a planning tool. If they dredge, they need an LGU permit. That pier abuts to the sea, the river is not part of it. The ECC is for the sea portion.)

In a phone interview with Rappler on Thursday, January 20, Farrales said the firm is not involved in dredging because it does not take away sand.

Walang black sand diyan dahil yun river (Alusiis), nililinis lang dati yan. Kumbaga stagnant dati yan, nire-rehabilitate yan at nakita ng DENR na ginagawa yan, okay naman ang DENR diyan. Walang environmental damage.” 

(There’s no blacksand mining in the river; they were just cleaning it. It used to be stagnant and they helped rehabilitate it and the DENR saw they said okay. There is no environmental damage.)

The real problem, the mayor said, is “yung lupa na pinag awayan” (the land dispute) between AGN and SZKM executive director Heide Fernandez. 

Fernandez told Rappler earlier that her family has titles to the property and that they are the “riparian owners of the foreshore” site of the “unauthorized and unwelcome jetty port”. – Rappler.com

Joann Manabat is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.