PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – A breakwater – allegedly made of dead corals and rocks as foundation – has enraged a non-governmental organization here.
Palawan Network of NGOs Inc (PNNI) said the riprap, built in Velasco Island in San Vicente town in Northern Palawan, is owned by Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, who also chairs the multi-sectoral and intergovernmental body, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).
Made for “tourist purposes”, the group further describes it as “a snake-like structure, composed of rocks and corals, emerging from” Velasco Island in Barangay Port Barton.
PNNI executive director and lawyer Robert Chan already made this known to PCSD through a letter-complaint dated December 7.
Alvarez, during the PCSD meeting on Tuesday, December 20, admitted he owns the structure in Velasco Island, which he bought from its previous owner who occupied it for about 30 years.
“I believe it’s not illegal to secure your own property,” the business tycoon said, explaining it was built as a shoreline protection for the island.
But he clarified it was made of carefully piled limestone and not dead corals as claimed by Chan, his fierce critic.
“Ang sinasabi niya (Chan) gumamit daw ako ng coral, mali yun; limestone yun. Kung coral man yun, patay na coral na yun,” he said. “Kung coral na buhay ginamit mo yun ang mali. Patay na po yun, hindi ako ang pumatay ng coral na yun.”
(Chan is saying I used corals, he is wrong; it’s limestone. If it were corals, those were dead corals. If I used live corals, it’s wrong. Those were already dead, I did not kill those corals.)
What the law says
However, NGO representative to the PCSD, lawyer Jansen Jontilla, said that whether it is live or dead corals, it is still against the law.
Using corals as materials in any structure is prohibited under RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code, which provides a coral ban provision.
Section 96 says: “It shall be unlawful for any person or corporation to gather, possess, commercially transport, sell or export ordinary, semi-precious and precious corals, whether raw or in processed form, except for scientific or research purposes. It shall also be unlawful for any person, corporation or entity to commit any activity that damage coral reefs.”
Meanwhile, Chan said the project is without any permit, whether it be an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) or Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the PCSD.
He said it was first chanced upon by PNNI’s Community-Based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA) partners in early October 2016.
PNNI’s letter-complaint came with geo-tagged photo attachments – one is “a close shot revealing the corals used as foundation, and topped with rocks designed to deceive would-be investigators.”
It was learned that the PCSD staff inspected the structure on December 9, but they have yet to release a report to the media as of publication time. The local office of DENR will also launch a separate inspection, according to Radyo Palaweño.
‘Prosecute us all’
Alvarez, meanwhile, challenged Jontilla to visit the area with him to prove that “there are many dead corals” within the vicinity of Velasco Island.
The governor further lambasted the PNNI executive director for always pointing to him, while he (Alvarez) has been the one extending help to poor constituents.
“Ang akin lang, kung nagkamali ako ‘wag lang ako ang i-single out. Paano yung mga mahihirap na ginawa rin yun, i-prosecute nating lahat? Sige i-prosecute mo kaming lahat,” Alvarez said, asking Jontilla to relay it to Chan.
(For me, if I was wrong, don’t single me out. How about the poor who also did that, we’ll prosecute them all? Go ahead, prosecute us all.)
“‘Pag pobre okay, ‘pag mayaman hindi okay?” Alvarez said. (If it’s the poor, it’s okay, but if it’s the rich, it isn’t?)
In a text message, Chan said they are “disheartened with the admission.”
Asked if PNNI is planning to pursue a case should concerned government agencies prove their claim, the executive director said doing such is “useless”.
“PNNI’s function is to expose it and let the concerned admin agency file the appropriate case versus the governor. To do more would be counterproductive for civil society if we as an NGO do all the work,” he added. – Rappler.com