environmental issues

Lawyer-environmentalist absolved of dumping hazardous wastes in Bataan

Randy V. Datu

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Lawyer-environmentalist absolved of dumping hazardous wastes in Bataan

FILE PHOTO. Hermosa Mayor Jopet Inton personally served the cease and desist order from the local government ordering the temporary stop of the Hermosa Sanitary Landfill Facility, operated by Econest Waste Management Facility two years ago.

Randy Datu/Rappler

A trial court finds no sufficient evidence that Econest CEO Beulah Coeli Fiel, a former sanitary landfill operator, dumped hazardous wastes in Hermosa, Bataan

BATAAN, Philippines – A trial court junked the case against the CEO of former sanitary landfill operator in Bataan for alleged dumping of hazardous and liquid wastes under Section 13 of Republic Act 6969 or “An Act to Control to Control Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes”. 

The case was filed by the local government unit (LGU) of Hermosa, Bataan, represented by its Municipal and Environmental and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO).

In granting the Demurrer to Evidence filed by the camp of lawyer Beulah Coeli Fiel, president and CEO of Econest Waste Management Corporation, Judge Amelita Cruz Corpuz of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 96 Dinalupihan, Bataan dismissed the case due to insufficiency of evidence. 

Atty Beulah Coeli Fiel
Atty. Beulah Coeli Fiel, CEO of Econest Waste Management Corporation. Handout

The court said, “There was no testimonial or documentary evidence presented that will prove beyond reasonable doubt that herein accused committed the act complained of,” and “that the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient, hence, dismissal of this case is proper under the premises.”

Prosecution witness Ronel Pagcaliwangan, chief operating officer (COO) of Udenna Environmental Services (UdESI) had admitted that they did business with Econest, but denied disposing any untreated hazardous wastes at the Hermosa landfill. UdeESI had a liquid waste treatment facility located across the Hermosa Sanitary Landfill.

The court also noted Pagcaliwangan’s letter dated February 26, 2020, wherein he wrote, “There was no instance where we disposed of any liquid chemical wastes in your sanitary landfill, as these were either treated via our Physico-Chemical Treatment Facility in Taguig or Thermal Oxidation in our Bataan Plant”.

The court also highlighted that the complainant, Hermosa MENRO Jesus De Luna, admitted that the two Notices of Violation against Econest dated September 19, 2019 and February 11, 2020, respectively, attached to the complaint show nothing about hazardous wastes.

De Luna was appointed Hermosa MENRO in October 2020. Prior to his appointment, he was an employee of Limay LGU detailed to Hermosa LGU. This was after the landfill was ordered closed by the Hermosa LGU in February that same year.

Amethya dela Llana, head of the Ecology Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, who also testified for the prosecution that some locators inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone had disposed of wastes at the Hermosa Sanitary Landfill, clarified on cross-examination that none of the wastes listed in the certification that she issued could be classified as hazardous or toxic under RA 6969.

Prosecution witness Elvis Atendido, Hermosa LGU garbage trucks supervisor, narrated that garbage truck driver, Jorry Villanueva, also a witness, reported to him about the unpleasant smell  in the landfill. 

In his testimony, Atendido said that he immediately went to the landfill and stopped 10 meters away from a jumbo sack because of the “nakakasulasok na amoy” (disgusting smell).

The court noted that Atendido admitted not opening the jumbo sack and not knowing what it contained. 

Atendido also admitted to having no expertise in identifying toxic or hazardous wastes, but merely based his testimony on the alleged foul odor, which he could not differentiate from regular municipal waste.

Two former employees of Econest, Aljon Puzon and Jaime Baltazar, testified that they allegedly witnessed toxic wastes being dumped at the landfill, but were unable to provide proof such as videos or photographs, and could not ascertain who gave the directive from the top management of Econest. 

The court ordered the release of Fiel’s cash bond amounting to P120,000.

In a statement, Fiel said she was relieved and deeply grateful for the dismissal of “these trumped-up charges.” 

“I hope that this will now put the issue to rest and help me regain my tarnished reputation. We had 74 regular and informal workers who depended their livelihood on that sanitary landfill . That is translated into 74 familes who were left hungry and poor, especially during the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fiel added.

Hermosa LGU and Econest entered into public-private partnership agreement for the operation of the Hermosa Sanitary Landfill but the LGU unceremoniously closed it without any final finding from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). Neither did the EMB participate in prosecuting the case against Fiel. – Rappler.com

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