Saturday, April 25, 2009

LGUs urged to endorse sustainable investments

LGUs urged to endorse sustainable investments
Updated June 18, 2008 12:00 AM

With the influx of high net worth investments in the province posing high social impacts to the immediate locality, civil groups call for the local government units to enhance their evaluation process to only approve sustainable investments amenable to the community.

“It will be much more responsible for LGUs in the province to seek out sustainable investments, environmentally sound projects and at the same time responsive to the community’s needs,” said Vince Cinches, Executive Director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolks Development Center Inc. and one of the advocates of the Save Tañon Strait Citizens Movement.

He said that non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil groups in Cebu are very much active because the local government still has several things to improve especially in addressing the basic needs of the community and in their evaluation process of projects.

“There should be a change of mindset for government officials so they can adopt a more appropriate concept of sustainable development. Development is not only physical infrastructure but social and political infrastructure should first be in place,” he stressed.

Cinches argued that the local government sector has seemingly adopted a backward concept for progress because of its continued pursuit for destructive projects, which is rather opposite to that of the public’s increasing understanding and awareness on sustainable development.

He said that example of destructive project recently pursued by the government include the contested Tañon Strait Oil exploration by the Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Ltd. (JAPEX). After constant vigilance from some social and environmental organizations which was led by the Save Tañon Strait Citizens Movement, the JAPEX operation has been successfully blocked.

However Cinches’ group is now lamenting over another possible threat in the face of a new potential investor called as NorAsia, an Australian oil and gas explorer.

He said that if NorAsia will be given required endorsements by the provincial board to operate in Argao, it will surely pose possible threat to our natural environment.

“We hope the provincial board will not endorse the project. We should learn from the Japex experience. There should be clear-cut feasibility studies to come up with an objective and informed decision so to avoid gray areas in its implementation,” he further added.

He also stressed that participation of people in policy making is very important to empower communities.

At the moment, social organizations still have very limited engagements with the public sector. But he argued that if both parties will be able to renew their processes, engagements could take place even outside the Regional and Provincial Development Council, Cinches said.

The development council is a decision-making body for different economic development undertakings composed of the government sector as well as representatives from multi-segmented stakeholders in the community.

“We are very willing to sit down and help the public sector become a model of “responsive development.” Partnership could be a very effective means to bridge agreement and there are a lot of social organizations that can be tapped to draft guidelines in projects and identify inherent problems within our locality,” underscored Cinches.

— Rhia de Pablo

Cebu gov hit over oil, gas exploration pact,_gas_exploration_pact

Cebu gov hit over oil, gas exploration pact
By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 12:39:00 04/24/2009

Filed Under: Mining and quarrying, Protest, Agreement (general)
MANILA, Philippines—Militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya, National Forces of the Fishers’ Movement of the Philippines) has questioned an agreement between the Cebu local government and an Australian mining firm to explore the Cebu-Bohol Strait for oil and gas.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said on Thursday the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by officials of the Australian offshore mining group NorAsia Limited and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia last April 15 was “a recipe for tragedy and a memorandum for destruction of Cebu-Bohol Strait.”

He added that the agreement went against the livelihood and interest of Cebuano and Boholano fisherfolk and that Garcia committed “a heinous crime against the environment and against the fisherfolk.

“This is totally revolting and extremely reprehensible. The MOU is a recipe for an across-the-strait destruction of people’s environment and livelihood in Cebu-Bohol Strait. The Governor of Cebu, her bosses in Malacañang and the Department of Energy, including NorAsia should be held responsible and accountable for whatever damage and destruction their offshore mining stint would create,” the Pamalakaya leader said.

Pamalakaya said the far-reaching effects of oil and gas explorations even during its exploratory or prospecting stage prior to production and extraction would be detrimental to the marine environment and to the fisherfolk’s livelihood.

The group said many studies showed that offshore mining could cause a significant amount of air pollution. Each offshore oil platform generates approximately 214,000 pounds of air pollutants each year. An average exploration well for natural gascould generate 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide, six tons of sulfur dioxide and five tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons, according to studies cited by Pamalakaya.

In addition, oil and gas drilling operations produce huge amounts of water waste ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 metric tons of highly toxic water waste materials per drilling. The seismic tests, which are part of the exploration stage, damage the hearing organs of marine species, cause hemorrhage in body tissues, and damage their reproductive organs.

Pamalakaya said seismic blasting could cause behavioral modifications and reduce or eliminate available habitat for breeding, spawning, foraging and migration. Seismic noises can alter fish distribution by tens of kilometers and can elicit physiological stress on neural-immune responses in marine organisms.

“Recent findings also revealed that oil and gas exploration activities could lead to massive production of other toxic waste materials such as cadmium which causes lung cancer; lead which causes gastrointestinal diseases, blood and kidney disorders, mental retardation and affects the nervous system; chromium which causes lung and liver cancers, kidney and other respiratory illness,” the militant group added.

The group also said the offshore mining in Cebu-Bohol Strait and other parts of the Visayan basin would affect the livelihood of not less than 100,000 small fishermen and 500,000 dependents.

Hicap said they have been consulting with lawyers on available legal remedies to nullify the agreement.

The agreement allows the Australian company to explore 7,400 square kilometers of marine waters encompassing the Cebu-Bohol Strait, a narrow sea strait separating the island provinces of Cebu and Bohol, and parts of Leyte in the East Visayan basin.

The group’s leader also scoffed at the P500,000 assistance fund provided by NorAsia for the fisherfolk and residents of Argao and Sibonga, two of the affected municipalities in Cebu, where the exploration has been set to take place.

In 2008, leaders of Pamalakaya wrote Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd requesting the Australian prime minister to persuade its’ offshore mining company—NorAsia Energy Limited to back off from oil and gas exploration project in Cebu-Bohol Strait. But the premier did not act on the matter, the group said.

A whale of a difference
A whale of a difference

A PETITION filed on behalf of sea mammals before the Supreme Court, in relation to the 2007 search for oil in the Tañon Strait, will stretch the limits of the law.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said so himself, in a speech at the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio City last April 16. The forum focused on environmental justice.

In Puno’s speech, a copy of which was sent toSun.Star Cebu, the chief justice discussed the implications of the novel case involving the “resident sea mammals of the Tañon Strait, which include toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises and other cetacean species,” suing a Japanese company and government agencies in relation to the oil exploration off the shores of Pinamungajan town.

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“The intriguing issue is whether a dolphin or whale can sue an oil exploration firm. If I cite this case, it is only to stress the ongoing attempts to further open the doors of courts to plaintiffs who are non-humans alleged to be entitled to a healthy environment,” Puno said in his speech.

The forum, “Upholding the Right to a Balanced and Healthful Ecology,” aimed to draft recommendations for better actions on environmental issues brought before the Supreme Court.

This gave Puno, the keynote speaker of the event, a chance to talk about locus standi, or standing, in terms of filing cases.

He recalled the “benchmark” case of Oposa versus Factoran, where unborn children and “future generations” were given a locus standi to sue, especially in cases involving the environment.

“We recognized the budding principle of inter-generational equity, which assures each generation the right to receive the planet in no worse a condition than received by the previous generation, and views the environmental and resource conservation obligations of the present generation from that perspective,” said Puno.

In the case of the mammals, it is still ongoing.

The petition was for certiorari with mandamus and injunction, filed in a bid to stop offshore explorations by the Japan Petroleum Exploration Company Ltd. (Japex).

How far?

Japex ended the oil exploration by early 2008. They never made it to a full-blown oil drill, with the company saying the available oil was not of commercially viable volumes.

Government agencies were impleaded in the Supreme Court petition for allowing the exploration to happen in the first place.

Oil explorations, said the petitioners, would damage their habitat. The mammals were represented by lawyers Gloria Estenzo-Ramos and Rose-Liza Eisma Osorio, acting as their guardians.

“Exactly how far the rule on standing is to be liberalized is the question,” Puno said in Thursday’s speech.

The chief justice noted, though, that relaxing the rule on locus standi has its disadvantages.

“Fears are expressed that this will open the floodgates to environmental litigation, many of which may be groundless, especially those filed by bounty hunters. They can drive away investment companies and they can contribute to the overclogging of our green court dockets,” Puno also said.

Environmental champions may even be sued for damages for initiating complaints to discourage them from pursuing it.

“Our task is to craft a rule that will strike the proper balance between the need to encourage citizens’ suits and the danger that unregulated citizen’s suits may bring about nuisance cases,” Puno said.

Some environmentalist-lawyers who attended a related forum in Iloilo City expressed optimism in the Tañon Strait mammals’ case.

They attended the “Forum on Environmental Justice: Upholding the Right to a Balanced and Healthful Ecology” in Iloilo City, an event the Supreme Court organized.

“This activity encourages us to actively pursue more actions to protect our environment. Truly the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Puno now remains as the only institution who stood by the people, under attack by oppressive anti-environment policies of the government,” said Vince Cinches, executive director of the Fisherfolks’ Development Center (Fidec) Inc.

In a press statement released by Ghianne Rada, Fidec described the forum as “most welcome in a time where global climate change is wreaking havoc on our lives.” (JGA/EOB)