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DUMAGUETE, Philippines – Environmental groups and concerned citizens filed a verified complaint against Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Remollo and seven other current and former city officials on Friday, September 29, over continuing reclamation activities, extending the seaside promenade on the south end of the city’s famed Rizal Boulevard.
The complainants, which include the groups Kahugpongan Para sa Kinabuhi ug Kinaiyahan (Kinaiyahan) and Friends of the Environment in Negros Oriental, say that the officials violated sections 3(e) and 3(g) of the Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
According to a copy of the 44-page complaint obtained by Rappler, Remollo continued the reclamation project for Pantawan 2, also called the Pantawan People’s Park, and its extension despite lacking the necessary permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
Remollo, former vice mayor Karissa Faye Tolentino-Maxino (now city councilor), former councilors Lilani Ramon (now city administrator), Michael Bandal, Edgar Lentorio, and Nelson Patrimonio, and ex-officio councilors Renz Macion (Sangguniang Kabataan federation president) and Dionie Amores (Association of Barangay Captains president) also face complaint for “illegally” disbursing government funds by “starting and funding the reclamation without securing first the necessary permits, clearances, and licenses.”
In June 23 last year, the outgoing Dumaguete City Council passed Appropriation Ordinance No. 41, Series of 2022, which included items related to the Pantawan project:
- Continuance construction of shoreline protection from existing seawall near Press Club Building going South, Barangay Poblacion 01 – P40,000,000.00
- Construction of Olympic-sized swimming pool at Pantawan (with roof and bleachers, CR and shower rooms, locker rooms – P30,000,000.00
- Continuance landscape improvement of Rizal Boulevard (Phase III), Barangay Poblacion 04 – P4,000,000.00
The PRA previously issued a cease and desist order in March 2019, as the city government had not obtained any clearance or approval for the project. While the DENR granted an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) in June 2019, this was later suspended in September 2019 due to “project implementation sans a Notice to Proceed.”
Separate inquiries made by the No To 174 Dumaguete Coalition & Volunteer Network within the months of March to September 2023 revealed that the PRA had still not received any application nor approved any reclamation, and that the DENR had not issued nor recommended an ECC.
Gary Rosales, president of Kinaiyahan, said the area reclaimed at Pantawan 2 was 1.7 hectares, and the extension which has now reached the seaside barangay of Poblacion 1 (Tinago) near the mouth of the Banica River.
The Pantawan project is separate from Remollo’s 174-hectare “Smart City” reclamation project which was halted after drawing broad condemnation among residents, scientists, environmental, and civil society groups in 2021. It faced less resistance from the public, despite facing similar protests, and environmental concerns.
Among those opposed to the Pantawan reclamation was the late National Scientist and former DENR secretary Angel Alcala. In a March 2021 forum on the Pantawan project, Alcala warned that “if reclamation extends southward toward the mouth of Banica River, then there is a possibility that the natural movement of the sands can be blocked by the extended reclaimed area, and such blockage at the river may cause more sedimentation along the bottom of the river and flooding, which would affect the residential areas along the river banks.”
Remollo previously defended the project as a “shoreline protection program” meant to safeguard residents and properties along the coast from waves and storm surges. He also maintained that the Dumaguete City local government has the authority to reclaim, citing Republic Act Nos. 1899 (An Act Authorize the Reclamation of Foreshore Lands by Chartered Cities and Municipalities) and 5797 (Revised Charter of the City of Dumaguete). – Rappler.com