Government Should Stop Destructive Panglao Reclamation Proposal

By Sunday Post
 
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Bohol virtually "drove the final nail to the coffin" of the Panglao reclamation plan in a protracted battle by a proponent to rise above partisan consideration as the law-making body deliberated the project's viability in economic and political terms.
 
But all efforts of Noris Oculam, main player of the project and the man behind Oasis Leisure Islands and Development Inc. (OLIDI), came to naught when the highly-partisan SP wrote finis to his pet project. In his appeal to SP, Oculam sought the conduct of an environmental study to find out if it affected economically and environmentally all stakeholders in the project. Sought for his reaction, Oculam said it was unfortunate that he was caught in the political crossfire of partisan interest. It was widely surmised that what put Oculam in an uncompromising situation as he pushed for the approval of the project was his close association with former governor Erico Aumentado now second district congressman. In fact, the first order of business of the SP committee that delivered the "knockout punch" of OLIDI's reclamation bid, was the cancellation of the joint venture agreement between the proponent and the former governor who represented the province then.
With the fate of his project in limbo Oculam is thinking of resorting to legal means if only to redeem his pet baby from its death bed. In dealing the final blow to the project, the SP approved the three measures recommended by the joint environment-tourism committee contained in report number 2011-03 dated Nov. 29, 2011 during the regular session presided over by Vice-Gov. Concepcion Lim last Friday. It approved a provincial resolution cancelling and/or rescinding through the Governor's office the "Joint Venture Development Agreement entered into with OLIDI." According to the death warrant of the project, the same proposal "presents a clear and present danger to the healthy biodiversity and sensitive marine environment within the offshore area of Panglao Bay," Under the second measure, an authority was given to the governor's office to "withdraw the application for reclamation filed with the Philippines Reclamation Authority".
 
According to Board Member Abeleon Damalerio, chair of the environment committee, in his joint report, the SP also approved the third resolution "opposing the establishment of any form of reclamation within the shores of Panglao Island,". Damalerio, tourism committee chair Godofreda Tirol, tourism vice chair Romulo Cepedoza and environment committee member Dr. Beinvenido Molina signed the eight- page joint committee report. Board Member Gerardo Garcia did not affix his signature in the report as certified by stenographers Josefina Gulle, Diodora Acedo and attested by committee secretary Romeo Jaum.

Far from over

Oculam, in a phone interview Friday, said that the fight is not over yet, saying OLIDI won't take the issue sitting down. He said the move of the provincial board was expected from the very beginning. He added that he will convene OLIDI's board of directors to tackle the issue and take the necessary steps given the SP ruling.

GROUNDS

SP's junking of the proposed reclamation project was based on lengthy narrative based on legal, social/economic and environmental considerations as reported by Damalerio. Contrary to claims, the SP which described the project as "a juicy proposal," found that it is "grossly disadvantageous transaction since the province has "totally surrendered its environmental and zoning responsibilities" to the project proponent. In addition, the SP said that the province "will be incurring costs" that are not being considered by the proponent. OLIDI, SP said, "is not qualified to undertake" the project since it has no track record being just newly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with capitalization of only Php12 million.
 
SP also relied on the recommendations of the group of concerned Boholanos composed of "physical, economic, political scientists and legal experts," who also expressed opposition to the project. Even before the environmental or feasibility study could take place as requested by the proponent, they have this to say. "We are among those vehemently opposed to such reclamation project, knowing fully well the breadth of its potentially damaging ecological impacts. Its impact on marine biodiversity in the area, not to mention other unforeseen effects because of human interference with the natural sea currents along a narrow channel (in the site, the Panglao Bay alluded to above among our provisos, where said project is proposed to be located) are extremely worrisome."

On legal effects, the SP also argued that the authority given to then governor Aumentado "was only for negotiation." "No subsequent Resolution was passed by the (SP) before for the governor to enter into and sign the JVDA." Hence, it concluded that the JVDA "is unenforceable against the provincial government" and OLIDI "cannot demand from the current administration confirmation of the reclamation phase." SP's opposition to stop the project has reinforced the contention of Panglao lawmakers when the latter passed Municipal Resolution No. 140, 2011, series of 2010 on October 10, 2010, "strongly opposing the establishment of any form of reclamation projects within the municipal waters of Panglao, Bohol," considering that the area where the project is to be undertaken is "haven of coral diversity and a sanctuary of diverse marine resources. Earlier, the past SP ( 2007-2010) had passed provincial Resolution No. 2009-633, "authorizing the then governor Erico Aumentado to represent the provincial government of Bohol and enter into a negotiation for a joint venture and development agreement (JVDA) with the Oasis Leisure Islands Development Inc. on the proposed reclamation project, off Panglao Bay, Panglao, Bohol, provided, however, that the provisions and amendment to the JVDA as proposed by the provincial legal office shall be made an integral part of the same (JVDA)."

This became the basis of the OLIDI to pursue the project even as it is amenable for the conduct first of the feasibility study as required by the afore-quoted Resolution. No. 2009-633. Resolution No. 2009-633 provides Bohol environment policy should be the guiding principle in pursuing the project, including the province's commitment to growth and conservation of its natural resources and compliance with the relevant environmental regulations and other legal pre-requisites. Also, then governor Aumentado said in his letter-endorsement to the SP that "no reclamation activity will be commenced unless appropriate social preparation activities among the stakeholders and affected persons shall have been conducted.' He also pointed out that the conduct of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be adhered and Environmental Compliance Certificate issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).