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The Dumaguete City Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) granted Mayor Felipe Remollo’s request to withdraw the authority to sign an agreement with developer E.M. Cuerpo, Inc. (EMCI) for the controversial 174-hectare Smart City reclamation project.
In a special session on Friday, September 10, the SP moved to approve Remollo’s request sent through a letter dated September 8.
However, Remollo noted in his letter that the withdrawal “is without prejudice…to pursue the city’s applications for pertinent permits with the PRA (Philippine Reclamation Authority) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources relative to the Smart City project at the proper time.”
No councilors objected to the motion approving Remollo’s withdrawal request – a stark contrast to the council’s repeated votes affirming the authority they first granted on July 7 despite the lack of public consultation.
The move comes after strong opposition from residents, scientists, environmental and civic groups, local government units, and religious leaders, following public disclosure of the reclamation project.
Marine scientists have raised the alarm over the reclamation’s potential for massive ecological damage and the displacement of fisherfolk’s livelihood. Lawyers and watchdogs have also questioned EMCI’s qualifications and links to Chinese state-owned company Poly Changda.
Remollo told the council that he made the request “after a careful consideration and in-depth study of the factual circumstances and legal [ramifications]” of the project.
Despite Remollo’s move, it seems that the Smart City reclamation project is far from dead.
In his request to the SP, the mayor asked the council to defer signing and serving the notice of award to EMCI as the winning bidder of the Swiss challenge “until and after the governing board of the [PRA] shall have reviewed and passed upon the entire bidding process conducted by the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) Selection Committee so as not to preempt any action or decision on the matter by the PRA.”
The PRA, in a letter to the SP which was read during the special session, confirmed that the Dumaguete City government does not have a pending application for the project and did not comply with the necessary requirements to kickstart the project. The agency previously confirmed this in a policy dialogue last August 3.
The PRA also “never received any request for the review from Dumaguete for the Swiss challenge and for the terms of reference of the unsolicited proposal of EMCI.” According to the PRA, this clearance is needed prior to the conduct of the Swiss challenge for the reclamation project to ensure the fairness of the selection process.
Councilor Rosel Erames noted that the authority granted to apply for reclamation with the PRA “still stands” and that the mayor would only need “to ask the city council again to issue a resolution of no objection” to formally start the application process for reclamation with the PRA.
The SP withdrew the resolution of no objection on July 21 amid public outcry against the project.
“FYI, an MOU (memorandum of understanding) is not a requirement in the PRA’s application process. Good that the mayor finally realized this,” Erames told Rappler.
Lawyer Golda Benjamin, one of the leading advocates against the project, noted the withdrawal’s significance but urged the people to continue voicing their opposition until the project is ultimately junked.
“The people won another battle today. The mayor’s act is an admission that this document had no legal basis in the first place. We must, however, escalate all protests in and out of the city council so that our councilors will finally kill this project because it is illegal, corrupt, environmentally disastrous, and anti-poor,” Benjamin told Rappler. – Rappler.com