Does the ongoing expansion of Palawan’s main highway into six lanes have the required permits including an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the DENR and a Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) Clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD)?
Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways last week declined to clarify these issues when asked during a meeting of department officials of DPWH Region 4-B.
DPWH Regional director Danilo Dequito however told Palawan News last week the project has been “assured” that the ongoing construction work will be issued the necessary permits.
“Our people on the ground won’t move if they’re not given assurance that this project will get permits,” said Dequito.
The project, which authorities earlier projected to cost P30 billion, seeks to boost Palawan’s economy by expanding the province’s 600 km national highway from existing two lanes to six lanes.
Road expansion already kicked off this year in 1st and 2nd engineering districts, starting in El Nido town in the north and ending in Bataraza town down south. The 3rd engineering district, on one hand, awaits initial budget to begin either next year or in 2019.
The Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) recently claimed that the provincial government-backed project has no permits including a tree cutting permit from the DENR for trees that will be destroyed during the construction process.
“Government projects are not exempt from the required SEP and ECC clearances,” said environmental lawyer Robert Chan, executive director of umbrella group PNNI, in a previous interview.
Narra town mayor Lucena Demaala has recently complained about the cutting two-decade old roadside trees in Barangay Sandoval. She claimed that DPWH did not coordinate with the municipal government before the trees were cut.
PCSD spokesperson Jovic Fabello said earlier the project was yet to go through the SEP clearance system, which includes public consultation and getting endorsements from local government units, among others.
Meanwhile, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Felizardo Cayatoc provided Palawan News a list of areas with road construction which have been granted with ECCs. But he did not clarify when asked if those ECCs are specifically intended for the superhighway project.
Dequito claimed that the DPWH offices that have started the construction have gone through the permitting process.
“They will not begin road construction without first having these [permits],” Dequito said.
“We ensure that all of our actions are legal as we don’t want to encounter problems,” he reiterated.
District engineer Alejandro Ventilacion of 2nd Engineering District told Palawan News that his office is just tasked to monitor and assist the superhighway project being implemented by the DPWH regional office.
“The preliminary detailed engineering work and the procurement process are under the authority of the regional office, while the project implementation and supervision are given to the regional project engineers,” said Ventilacion.
With that, Ventilacion assumes the regional office is aware of the need to comply the permitting requirements. “Most probably, they have already secured the necessary permits,” he added.
The Environmental Legal Assistance Center has earlier urged the government to “put on hold any preparatory activities related to the building of the six-lane road,” until the required assessments and relevant studies like economic necessity and financial feasibility, as well as stakeholders’ consultations, are undertaken.
When asked about a study that points out the need for the six-lane road, Dequito said they already made a projection up to 2022. “In the future, it would invite investors and once it happens, the six-lane road is really needed,” he said.