The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), in an unusual turnaround this week, revoked its previous rejection of Ipilan Nickel Corporation’s (INC) Strategic Environmental Plan Clearance, granting the company a “conditional approval” instead.

The decision, according to PCSD executive director Atty. Teodoro Matta was in support of the Duterte administration’s current push for mining projects. He also disclosed that the previous decision made years ago by the Council was flawed, admitting that they did not go through due process.

The PCSD action raises several important questions about the Council’s decision-making process in granting SEP clearances.

If the premise of the decision is to conform to a supposed policy pronouncement of the national government to promote mining projects, does this take precedence over Republic Act 7611 which regulates it?

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The record of the case shows that the decision to reject the INC SEP Clearance application in 2018 was mainly due to its conflict with the ECAN zoning map of Brooke’s Point. The only way to cure this is for the municipality to reclassify its zones to accommodate the project, a tough proposition as it will have to involve bending the science.

Indeed, RA 7611 is a science-based law. Its framers sought to ensure that the approval of environmentally critical projects conforms with “sustainable development” parameters, the most important of which is the conservation and protection of important ecosystems or habitats and endangered species. It is the guiding principle of the special law’s zoning strategy called Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN).

In practice, however, the PCSD has allowed changes in the municipality’s ECAN zones such that certain projects have been accommodated. There are cases pending in court filed by environmental groups that point to this.

Also, to admit that the disclosure that the previous Council decision denying INC its SEP Clearance application was flawed is tantamount to throwing the PCSD Staff under the bus after the Council upheld its recommendations.

It is given that the technical staff of PCSD that evaluates SEP clearance applications make recommendations based solely on the guidelines set forth by the law, including zoning classifications and a project’s potential environmental impact. For its recommendation to be withdrawn, there needs to be a re-evaluation of the project and a justification for approval.

The PCSD assures that it remains true to the letter of RA 7611 in reconsidering the case of INC. It insists that certain prior conditions must be met before it grants the SEP Clearance needed by the mining company to proceed.

The only surprise remaining here is if PCSD ends up upholding its earlier decision citing RA 7611 as its reason.

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