Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lawyers, groups eye action vs. local authorities

Lawyers, groups eye action vs. local authorities

LAWYERS and nongovernment organizations are “outraged” over the way government agencies handled the case involving
a vessel that ran aground and damaged the protected fish sanctuary in Talisay City.

Government agencies will be held accountable, said lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos of the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines–National Environmental Action Team (IBP – Neat).

“We will take the lead, we will make them accountable,” she said in a press conference yesterday.

Ramos and lawyer Benjamin Cabrido wrote a letter to Talisay City as well as the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the Philippine Coast Guard and the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) to ask why the mv United was not apprehended.

“There was no marine protest or inquiry or determination,” said Cabrido.

He said they are contemplating on filing a case for damages against the BOC, CPA and the Coast Guard. Since they could not sue the vessel’s owners or operators anymore, which left the Philippine waters, they will go after the agencies that allowed the ship to sail.

The foreign cargo ship mv United ran aground off Barangay Poblacion, Talisay City last March 5, damaging Lagundi Reef’s seabed and corals. The ship is an Athens, Greece-based carrier of Kamtchuka International Limited.

The groups sought Talisay City’s answers to at least 11 questions, including its acceptance of the US$10,000 donation from the ship owner for the immediate rehabilitation of Lagundi Reef.

“Are you aware that considering the circumstances, the act of receiving the amount is a possible violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act?” the group’s letter said.

“Is that some sort of settlement for destroying Lagundi Reef?” Vince Cinches of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc. (Fidec) said.

Marine scientist Danilo Largo said the amount is not even enough to rehabilitate the coral reefs, which is a life support system.

“Why was the vessel allowed to leave when no assessment of the extent of the damage was done?” was another question for the city officials.

IBP-Neat, Fidec, the Knight-Stewards of the Sea and a youth group also asked Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to form Task Force Lagundi, which will investigate last week’s incident.

“We need an independent and multi-sectoral body to look into the incident (and) the scope of responsibilities of the different government agencies,” read the letter addressed to Garcia.

“The mishandling of the destruction of the coral reefs at the Lagundi Reef is, likewise, a telling revelation of the lack of capacity and will of local government units to manage and appreciate the significance or our coasts and marine resources and its failure to coordinate immediately with national government agencies,” the group’s statement also read.

Even Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has joined the call to protect marine resources through a public service announcement that the group showed reporters yesterday.

“We are outraged, we are angry. You don’t like us when we’re angry because this is our passion, it is not about money,” Cabrido warned.

Earlier, concerned Talisay City residents have also asked Garcia to create a task force that will look into the destruction of the Lagundi Reef.

In their letter-appeal, the residents urged Garcia, who is also the Provincial Marine Protection Council chairperson, to create an independent and multi-sectoral body that will probe the incident.

Sought for comment, Capitol information consultant lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda said Talisay City has the primary jurisdiction over the issue. But he said they will coordinate with the city authorities “and move from there.”

The captain of the 31,643-gross ton ship, Chen Guangming, was charged with reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property.

Underwater photos show corals reduced to rubble by the ship’s propeller, the group said. Sun.Star Cebu. (JGA/GMD)

Lagundi reef destruction: Environment lawyers eye legal action vs Talisay government
Updated March 14, 2009 12:00 AM

CEBU, Philippines - Members of several environmental groups disclosed yesterday that they will file a case in court against those who are responsible for the destruction of Lagundi Reef.

Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, chairperson of the National Environment Action Team (NEAT)-Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Cebu chapter, said the local government of Talisay City, together with the Cebu Ports Authority and other agencies should be made accountable for allowing the cargo ship and its crew to leave Cebu without being made to answer for the damage it had cause to the reef when it recently ran aground in the seawaters of Talisay City.

“It is high time for the people to exact accountability on those mandated to protect our life support system. Enough is enough,” Ramos said.

The NEAT-IBP, together with the Global Legal Action on Climate Change-Cebu and Save TaƱon Strait Citizens’ Movement with other stakeholders yesterday held a press conference to announce their legal action against those who are responsible for the destruction of Lagundi Reef.

Environmentalists said Talisay City should be made legally accountable for accepting money from the Chinese crew of the foreign vessel and allowing it to leave Cebu without having filed a case against it.

Capt. Chen Guangming of M/V United Majuro was released after undergoing inquest proceedings and paying a P5,000 fines for violating a city ordinance that regulates activities within the Lagundi Reef and giving the city government another $10,000 as donation.

In a manifesto, the environmentalists said they are saddened and perplexed at the way the incident involving the MV united Majuro’s destruction of the corals at the Lagundi Reef was handled by the Talisay City government and pertinent government agencies.

“It is indeed unfortunate that we do not really put a premium on resources conservation and protection,” it said. “Obviously, GMA’s EO 774 on mainstreaming conservation, protection and restoration of the natural world does not make a dent on her executive agencies, including the LGUs.”

They said it is very sad and unfortunate that, as the mishandling of the Lagundi Reef destruction and the reclamation projects that are sprouting, people do not really put a premium on resources conservation and protection.

Atty. Ramos added that amid the climate crisis and its dire implications on survival, people should not solely rely on government to protect the natural heritage as there will be nothing left for the future generations.

The group also requested Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to form a multi-sectoral body that will conduct investigation into the Lagundi Reef incident. — Johanna T. Natavio/WAB (THE FREEMAN)

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