DENR revokes agreement with SBMA on clearances

Published by rudy Date posted on January 8, 2009

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza yesterday recalled the agreement his department forged with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in 2006 on the issuance of environmental permits and clearances.

In a letter, Atienza informed SBMA administrator Armand Arreza that the DENR decided to revoke the memorandum of agreement (MOA) because of SBMA’s “failure to comply with the terms” of the accord, and following a “storm of protests” over plans to cut more than 300 mature trees to give way to a hotel-casino project in the former US naval base.

The DENR signed the MOA with the SBMA on Jan. 17, 2006, deputizing the latter to issue environmental permits and clearances to businesses that would operate within the freeport.

“The DENR is accountable to the people for the protection of the environment, and Subic is much too important to the country’s economic development and even (to the) well-being of the people. Because of this, we have decided to take direct control of Subic instead of allowing SBMA to have sole authority over the implementation of environmental laws inside the Freeport zone,” Atienza said.

Atienza particularly cited the SBMA’s failure to secure from the DENR a programmatic environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the freeport since the signing of the MOA.

The SBMA, he added, also failed to give the DENR its right to confirm all previously issued clearances and permits for individual business locators, and provide regular monitoring reports of environment compliance among the locators, which are mostly foreign investors.

Moreover, Atienza said the SBMA has failed to comply with other agreements reached during meetings with DENR officials since last year.

“In the first place, the DENR has not given the SBMA the authority to allow anyone to cut trees inside Subic. Obviously, the environmentalists themselves see that it is the SBMA that may have exceeded its authority by allowing just about anyone to cut trees,” Atienza said.

“We cannot allow the SBMA to continue to remain blind of the fact that the environmental stability of this all-important economic zone depends on the continued existence of those trees,” he added.

Atienza said his department has given the SBMA “enough time, in fact four years, to comply with the conditionalities of the MOA, but what we received are complaints from many sectors about reported violations of environmental laws.”

He said the DENR is now compelled to revoke the MOA with the SBMA “to take direct control of the development and environmental requirements of Subic.”

Last year, environmentalists assailed Korean-owned ship-builder Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. after it cut down trees on an islet it had leased to build one of its facilities.

Also last year, another Korean-owned firm building a $120-million casino hotel came under fire after environmentalists exposed its plan to cut down more than 300 trees.

The trees in both cases were part of areas in the former US naval facility considered as old-growth forests.

Despite Arreza’s repeated assurances that not a single tree would be cut to make way for the hotel-casino, Atienza said a team that Grand Utopia hired to make an environmental survey in the area asserted that at least 161 trees may have to be cut because they showed signs of disease. –Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star

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