Thursday, March 8, 2012

News Update Graft case vs Cebu governor, others filed

CEBU CITY -- For allowing an “illegal” project to push through, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and officials of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Cordova Municipal Government will face an administrative complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.
Lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, an environmental lawyer and co-founder of the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC) Inc., said they want to hold the officials accountable for the Cordova Reclamation Project, which she said is illegal because it does not have the approval of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
Capitol is undertaking a reclamation project on a 20-hectare area off Sitio Camonilas in Barangay Poblacion, Cordova for the terminal building of the town’s roll-on, roll-off port. It will also construct a commercial center on the reclaimed property.
In questioning the legality of the reclamation project, Ramos cited Executive Order 525, which states that all reclamation projects should be approved by the President, upon the recommendation of PRA. Under Executive Order 543, the power to approve such projects is delegated to the PRA.
In a letter to PEJC dated December 14, 2011, PRA General Manager Peter Abaya said the Municipality of Cordova has applied for a reclamation project, but neither Cordova nor the Province complied with the requirements yet.
Capitol spokesperson Rory Jon Sepulveda stressed that the Provincial Government does not need permission from the PRA to undertake reclamation projects.
He said the Office of the Provincial Attorney issued an opinion citing the local government’s authority to undertake a reclamation project using its own funds, without the PRA’s approval.
He added that an executive order cannot limit the right of cities and provinces under the Local Government Code.
“Do these environmentalists not believe in the power of local autonomy?” Sepulveda asked.
The group decided to include DILG officials in the complaint it will file on Thursday after its regional director, Ananias Villacorta, denied their request to investigate the reclamation project.
In February 14, 2012 letter, PEJC asked DILG to investigate the project “because the President, through the DILG, is tasked to supervise and ensure that the Province and cities act in accordance with the law.”
“I was disheartened by the reply of DILG … The director admitted they have the power to supervise a local government unit but with local autonomy, the only way they can look into the project is if it’s declared illegal… He said they can’t investigate because they have no authority to investigate,” she told Sun.Star Cebu.
“I said why can’t they investigate when it’s very clear that the project is illegal? So I wrote them back and I said we don’t have a choice but to file an administrative case to hold public officials accountable. Illegal na project ila lang pasagdan (How can they allow an illegal project to continue)?” Ramos asked.
PEJC is opposing the project, claiming it would result in the loss of marine and land ecosystems, since mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass would be damaged.
Ishmael Narag of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said preserving mangroves and coral reefs also protects coastal communities from tsunamis.
He said mangrove forests do not only provide food and habitat to several marine organisms, they also act as buffer against large waves.
Coral reefs have the same function, said Project Seahorse Foundation senior biologist Angie Nellas.
“Coral reefs … dissipate the strength of the waves. (They act as) barriers so dili kusog kayo ang impact sa big waves (They weaken big waves),” she added.
In a letter to PEJC dated March 2, 2012, Villacorta said local government units “are given a wide latitude of discretion in the exercise of its power to promote the general welfare of and for the delivery of services to their inhabitants.”
He said there is a presumption of regularity in the performance of duties of local government officials, and that the actions of the local executive and legislative body can only be stopped after due process is observed through the proper court or government agencies exercising quasi-judicial functions over the local government units.
This is not the first time the PEJC will challenge Governor Garcia in court.
In 2010, it also filed administrative complaints against the governor and other Capitol officials in relation to the purchase of the Balili property in the City of Naga, which was developed into a coal ash landfill, among others. (LCR/With OCP/BAP/Sun.Star Cebu)