File photo of the WTEI pier project in Brgy. Luzviminda courtesy of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc (ELAC).

The city government admitted on Monday that William Tan Enterprises Inc.’ (WTEI) pier project in Brgy. Luzviminda violated some existing environmental laws but added that penalizing the company is outside its jurisdiction.

City Environment and Natural Resources Office (ENRO) chief Atty. Carlo Gomez told Palawan News they cannot do anything to penalize WTEI except issue a cease and desist order (CDO) which it did in 2017 and notice of violation (NOV).

“May violation naman talaga si WTEI but those violations are not within our jurisdiction. Kaya nga sabi ko bakit kami ang kakasuhan?” Gomez said.

The WTEI started its pier construction without a permit from the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) and has no environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

However, there are no appropriate provisions under the city’s environmental code that can be applied or imposed in the case of WTEI, he said.

“Our office issued a notice of violation and also issued a cease and desist order. Ang problem natin is when we referred [the matter] to our city environmental code, which is supposedly source ng ating lokal na batas… to siguro… to penalize or fine and pulisin natin ‘yong mga in violation of the law, we did not find any provision we can apply to come up with a penalty against WTEI. Wala talaga kaming makita,” he added.

He explained further that the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) issued WTEI a certificate of non-coverage (CNC), which means its pier project is not covered by the Philippine Environmental Impact Assessment System (EIAS) that requires it to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

Gomez said Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) executive director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, who is now threatening to sue the city government for not stopping the project, was even a member of the team that crafted the city environmental code.

“Bakit kami ang kakasuhan? ‘Yong ibang opisina nga pumapayag doon sa project,” Gomez stated.

He also cited that a recent study conducted by the Western Philippines University (WPU) proved that the area, “environmentally speaking is, actually, not that critical”.

Gomez said they are coming up now with a local ordinance that will also give the city government the authority to penalize project proponents even if their violations are within the jurisdiction of government agencies likes the DENR and the PRA.

“It’s not our turf. Wala nga kaming makita that’s why because of that I initiated the amendment of the environmental code to include penalties, fines, and disqualification. Ayusin natin ang environmental code, dapat ganoon para may jurisdiction kami,” he said.

Gomez said they have also observed that even the coral reef in the Luzviminda area is “no longer thriving.”

“You can ask the community kung may nakukuha sila na isda doon. Tapos ang isang kwan doon… siguro we have to backtrack ano… it was formerly a community settlement. Maraming nakatira sa mga kabahayan doon noon sa area. ‘Yong mangrove wala na, depleted na… inhabited area it’s so happen lang na base sa aming assessment, sa aming investigation ay nabili lang ng WTEI,” he pointed out.

He pointed out further that the barangay supported the proposed pier project.

WTEI has reportedly committed to sharing the use of the wharf to the coastal community in Luzviminda, which is good for the fishing livelihood of many families.

“We cannot live retrogressively, we have to accommodate the community, we have to help them… ang city government limited din naman ang budget ang daming ina-address na problema. Actually, the city government will be thankful if there are private enterprises that will help us or assist us in solving some of the social problems,” he said.

ELAC still waiting for PCSD, DENR

Meanwhile, Anda said the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc (ELAC) is still waiting for the action of the PCSD and the DENR on the notice to sue which it filed against the WTEI reclamation project owned by William Tan.

She said Tuesday that they will give the two agencies until next month to act before they file a writ of continuing mandamus to court.

“We will be patient to give them until next month. We will wait for their reply before we file the continuing mandamus case,” she said.

Anda said the PCSD has started to deliberate about the issue last week.

The case stems from the alleged failure of the city government to respond to the position letter of ELAC dated April 10 which cites reasons why the proposed pier should be stopped.

ELAC is calling the attention of the city government to stop the barge docking facility project to prevent the destruction of the marine life, including seagrasses in the area.

ELAC already sent a letter to the DENR-CENRO, City ENRO, and PCSD on May 6, 2017, asking an immediate stoppage on the project.

The group also sent a follow-up letter on May 10, 2018, to the Vice Mayor’s Office and the members of the City Council for an “immediate and multi-partite investigation”.

She said after the initial stage of discussing the issue, nothing else followed.

ELAC wants the city to also get a scientific opinion to determine what effect the pier project will cause and also to review the certificate of non-coverage (CNC) it issued to WTEI to recommend its withdrawal to the DENR EMB.

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