Environmental group warns DENR chief Cimatu on decentralizing ECC approvals

July 10, 2017

Quezon City, Philippines – The Center for Environmental Concerns expresses strong concerns on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Cimatu’s order of restoring the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) processing function to DENR regional offices.

Former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez’ administrative order states that all ECC issuance to existing and proposed critical projects will be processed by the agency’s central office. Earlier last week, Cimatu signed the Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2017-18 transferring the authority to issue ECC to DENR regional offices with a new directive, “In the interest of service and in order to expedite the issuance of ECC in the regional level consistent with the directive of the President to fast-track the issuance of government permits and licenses, DAO 2017-04 is hereby suspended indefinitely.”

“This new direction is seen to slacken project application procedures that will open up conditions for extractive and ruinous economic projects and investments that are detrimental to the country’s environment and natural resources,” reacted Owen Migraso, CEC’s Executive Director. With the objective to speed up the implementation of ECC processing, the emerging concern is that decentralizing the ECC approval without reforming the DENR-EMB is tantamount to the aggravating environmental problems that the country is already suffering from.

The CEC sees the new directive as a one-sided approach to environmental problems. Former Secretary Lopez’ order recognizes the need to protect environmentally-critical areas through regulations in the issuance of ECC. Despite the loopholes in the policy itself, the country’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) System should address the need to protect and conserve the country’s already destructed and exploited critical ecosystems. In the long history of practice, the country’s current environmental impact assessment policy has been questionable in terms of ensuring consistency between environmental protection, as its main purpose, and economic development and social justice.

Last year, the CEC urged the DENR to review the ECC granted to Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Region VIII, the project proponent of Leyte Tide Embankment and Road Heightening Project, by DENR-EMB Region VIII, which is set to build a 27 kilometer embankment along the coastlines of Tacloban, Palo and Tanauan as a so-called disaster mitigating measure. The CEC together with the AGHAM (Advocates for Science and Technology for the People) has reviewd the project’s EIS and brought the results to dialogues with DPWH and DENR.

In the case of the Leyte Tide Embankment Project, there was confusion because the EIA preparer is also an EMB Region VIII employee, which obviously has conflict of interests. The process of granting an ECC to the Leyte Tide Embankment Project by DENR-EMB Region VIII is a testament to the existing graft and corruption in the regions. “CEC’s experience in the ground substantiate how corruption works in agency responsible for environmental compliance,” added Migraso.

Thus, Cimatu’s reversal of the order would also mean a chance to revive mining and other infrastructure applications in the regions. Most affected by this would be the communities primarily affected by such projects.

The CEC calls on the newly-appointed DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to review his office’s decision to restore decentralization of the ECC approval, and set a transparent and inclusive sunset review of the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System that would ensure participation of affected communities, organizations and institutions concern in the EIA process.