The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) is set to file a “citizen suit” against a private business entity here for allegedly reclaiming a large seagrass area for a barge docking facility in Barangay Luzviminda without proper permits.
Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) executive director, Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, said Sunday at a press conference they are inclined to pursue legal action against local businessman William Tan, owner of the William Tan Enterprises, Inc. (WTEI), because of this.
She said the reclamation has placed the diverse community of marine animals that depend on seagrasses for shelter and food in the barangay.
“This has already been the subject of our complaints. We already sent several letters to the city government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) so it will be stopped. What bothers us now, is how come it’s now almost completed?” she said.
Anda said it has no approval from the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) mandated to be the clearinghouse of reclamation ventures.
It also has no full-blown environmental impact assessment (EIA) and no environmental compliance certificate (ECC) being issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“Definitely, the reclamation will bring silt to the mangroves. Our question is why is the city government not doing anything to stop this project considering the fact that we have complaints and we are respecting the process so they can study it?” she asked.
The pier, she stressed, cannot be established in the area as it has important mangroves and seagrass beds that are productive ecosystems as they are foundation plant species or ecosystem engineers.
Under the guidelines of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), she said, the shallow water habitat is considered “core zone,” which means it is a highly protected area.
“ELAC’s call is to stop the project while the complaints against it are being studied. And if it has no required permits, the better thing to do is to demolish it. Our call is to urgently request the city to implement the law, and please, don’t wait for us to move legally for a writ of continuing mandamus for them to do what is right,” Anda said.
WTEI may claim that the corals in the area might be dead, but Anda said the Fisheries Code states that even if they are already lifeless, they cannot be gathered as reclamation materials.
She said the existence of the pier project was first reported in 2016 by residents of Luzviminda, and ELAC’s position papers and letters were made in 2017.
The project was put on hold, but they were surprised to learn just recently that it has continued “under questionable authority.”
“What is clear here is that there is a failure to enforce the law, and it’s really very disturbing because if you have a reclamation activity like this, then it should be covered by all permits, including from the PRA. I spoke to the PRA covering Mimaropa and this project has no reclamation permit, although it has a request,” she stated.
The area that was reclaimed, she further explained, is not the property of the WTEI but the government.
She said they have already suggested to the WTEI to use the main road to go to its cement warehouse in Luzviminda, but the owner apparently does not want to spend on gas.
“You don’t want to spend for gas, but what about the cost of the damage you did to the environment. We actually need to do a total economic valuation – let’s measure cost benefit, is the government going to earn huge if the mangroves and seagrass are destroyed?” Anda pointed.
In a dialogue last year, she disclosed that the WTEI did not want to admit that it was responsible for cutting mangroves at the pier site.
Sought for comments, WTEI through Atty. Patrick Tan, its executive vice president, said the company’s legal department is checking the issue.
“Be assured that the company’s legal department is looking into the issue. We will give our statement once we have finished our verification on these matters and some others being raised,” said Tan.