Pandan Antique Philippines

Appeal to the Haribon Foundation

December 15, 2000

To : Rodolfo Quicho
Tanggol Kalikasan
Haribon Foundation

From: Eric Garrett
Project Manager
Philippine Endemic Species Conservation Project (PESCP)

Re : Manila sends its garbage to a beleaguered Island


I believe we met briefly at your office on a day in November when your group was heading out the door to attend a demonstration. I made inquiries about Tanggol Kalikasan’s range of interest in advance of our implementing a CBRM program here in the Northwest Panay peninsula. Now I have a more immediate and urgent matter to report, and I would appreciate your advice and possibly the assistance of your office.

You may be aware of the efforts of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to contract the Semirara Coal Company (SCC) and its parent company, DMCI-RII Builders Consortium, to establish a garbage dumpsite on Semirara Island, Municipality of Caluya, Antique. SCC currently operates an open pit mine in Semirara for the extraction of coal and has a bad record in complying with environmental requirements and social responsibilities. They are -as might be thought typical- trying to press the dumpsite on the island community through various means, including intimidation, bribery, and manipulation of public office at the national, regional and local level.

On Dec. 15, during the regular session of the Sangunniang Panlalawigan, Former Makati Mayor Binay and Secretary Aventajado, head of Special Projects for Pres. Estrada descended on Antiques’ capital, San Jose, with entourage and joined a contingent from SCC to present their case. Little notice was given and concerned citizens assembled in haste to attend, including several SBs, one Municipal Mayor, and a very small contingent from Semirara that had, by luck, learned that the issue was to be discussed. In brief, an opposition was mounted to represent the broadly shared view that Antique did not appreciate being regarded as the trash can for Manila’s unchecked appetites, unregulated growth and poor management.

SCC made a slide show presentation to the group that amounted to a research project for “best practices” in the waste management industry, using case studies from the US, Japan, and other centers of wealth and technology that neither reflect the current realities in the Philippines nor the history of the Semirara Coal Company. In the end, they project the enormous benefits that are to accrue to Semirara for being host to Manila’s garbage. The Chair of the SP, Vice Governor Marfil, described the day as an opportunity for MMDA and SCC to make their case, and curtailed the opposition in terms of time and the number of questions.

There are many details that need to be related at length to explain why we are concerned that the decision to accept the dumpsite in Semirara will not be made by the people who will have to live with the consequences. Depending on the duration of the site and the quality of its management, this could affect the entire coast of Antique and portions of Aklan. We are not aware of any EIA, nor has anyone seen a feasibility study or technical specifications. The current site in Manila is mandated to close on Dec. 31 of this year, and it was clearly the preference of Binay that a decision to commence the loading of barges for shipment to Semirara be made before that time.

It was clear that SCC and MMDA had manipulated the situation to divide the opposition, and they treated the clear resistance (including a resolution by the SB of Caluya to oppose the proposed garbage site on Semirara) as a casual inconvenience. It is also not propitious to discover that the SCC workers (mostly imported) are to be trained as para-military. Semirara is a fairly remote location and labor organizing has been suppressed over the years of SCC operations. People there report a sense of isolation and fear that they can be dismissed without any recourse to normal channels of appeal.

Environmental concerns include a history in which SCC has pushed its will through connections at the top level of the DENR, by-passing normal procedures for the conduct of EIAs and the issuance of ECCs, depending on a relationship between the owners of the company and Sec. Cerilles. The mandate of the CENRO of jurisdiction is restrained to an observer’s role. According to the report of a former company employee (tasked to oversee environmental compliance and fired for doing so) the dumping of earth from the excavation sites have extended the coastline by an area of between 1-2 square kilometers in two locations, and is described as a “land reclamation” project. Coral reef that once thrived in these areas have been blanketed in earth and rock, and now excavation occurs directly in what was once coastal waters, with excavated materials being deposited outside a “protection barrier” designed to contain tailings and siltation. A turtle sanctuary exists in the area., and local fish catches are reported to have been reduced by two-thirds.

Now, this same company is to establish and maintain a dumpsite, handling daily at least 2000 tons of Manila’s complex refuse in an environmentally critical area. The threat exists that garbage will begin to be shipped despite local opposition. A task-force to develop resistance and monitor the events is being assembled, and it is considering the possible necessity to establish a blockade at the loading site in Manila (reported to be pier 18).

This situation is comparable to another event that affects the mainland, also in Antique. On Dec. 4, the Municipal Mayor of Libertad received notification fro Sec. Cerriles that Tudor Mining Company had been granted a certificate of non-coverage for the resumption of marble extraction in NW Panay in an 800 hectare sight, portions of which are within the zone of a proposed protected area (among the number one priority areas of CIs priority-setting process just concluded on Dec. 8). Again, there is strong local opposition and resolutions rejecting the claim are being processed through the SB and jointly by the four barangays affected. For this situation, we have requested the assistance of FPE, which has approved our proposal for a CBRM program beginning in January that includes this area.

These cases, I believe, can be seen as suitable for establishing important precedent for the interpretation of the Local Government Code of 1991, particularly with respect to the prerogatives of the national offices of the DENR. In the case of Caluya, the municipal offices of government, the communities of Semirara and local opposition in Antique could benefit from your assistance and advice. I would hope that you would confer with Juju Tan to determine how any response could be coordinated with the FPE. I took the liberty of advising Dr. Bobi Alojipan, head of the Outpatient Charity Division of the Makati Medical Center, to contact your office for advice. He represents a group called PAGTATAP, an extended network of citizens from Pandan, Antique who are mobilizing resistance to the dumpsite in Semirara.

One last presumption on my part would be to ask that you provide me with a brief confirmation that you received this letter.

With appreciation,