Protect VIP and other groups on Tuesday filed a Petition for Writ of Continuing Mandamus with the Court of Appeals against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to force the agency into issuing Guidelines for Declaration of Non-Attainment Area.
Protect VIP together with the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas, and several fisherfolk organizations in Batangas and Mindoro, also urged the DENR to suspend discharge permits and environmental compliance certificates of gas projects in the VIP pending the issuance of the guidelines. The case is also filed against National Water Resources Board, Department of Health, and Department of Agriculture.
“Protect VIP and other stakeholders have repeatedly requested DENR to designate as non-attainment areas the waters of VIP and beyond that have failed water quality tests, as required under Section 6 of the Philippine Clean Water Act. This provision states that it is the DENR’s duty under the law to prevent new sources of pollution in non-attainment areas and to ensure existing sources of pollution will be reduced. However, DENR has failed to respond to our entreaties, only giving empty assurances that we will be provided copies of such guidelines once they have been issued,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Lead Convenor of Protect VIP.
Last July, water quality tests across marine protected areas (MPA) of Pola and Pinamalayan showed that five of six exceeded 2016 water quality standards for oil and grease while a follow-up test in September showed that all six exceeded failed to meet the aforementioned standards. Additionally, an MPA in Ilijan, Batangas also exceeded water quality standards for oil and grease, and ammonia.
“The high concentrations of pollutants, such as oil and grease, in coastal waters can impact the fish, corals, and other aquatic organisms and can also pose a health risk to humans exposed directly or through contaminated fish. The longer the subject waters remain unprotected and exposed to pollution, the more likely the damage and deterioration to these areas may be irreparable,” said Ivan Andres, Deputy Head for Research and Policy of CEED.
Fisherfolks lamented the decline of fish catch, citing the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro and the proliferation of gas plants in the vicinity.
“Mahirap yung wala nang hanapbuhay ang mga simpleng mangingisda. Pinatay na ang hanapbuhay namin pero kailangan naming lumaban. Hindi lamang para sa aming pamilya kundi itong karagatan ay buhay — buhay ng aming pamilya. Masakit sa kalooban kung bakit namin ipaglalaban ang aming kabuhayan. Sana po sa DENR, mabigyan kami ng liwanag sa aming kabuhayan. Wala kaming ibang alam kundi ang mangisda. Sana po ay matugunan niyo ang aming kahilingan,” said Sanny Tayco, council member of LIMA para sa VIP, a coalition of fisherfolks in five provinces of the VIP.
Atty. Luke Espiritu, counsel of the case, lambasted the DENR for its slow action regarding the guidelines for Non-Attainment Areas and its failure to act on its mandate. “It has almost been 19 years since the Clean Water Act, and yet DENR’s response to our inquiry is that they don't have guidelines and they are yet to make it. It is such a surprising excuse because the Clean Water Act already has implementing rules and regulations. There must be positive action on the part of DENR - they should not issue ECCs for projects that proliferate LNG terminals and power plants around Batangas. The DENR has all the tools in its hands yet they still allow destructive projects even though the waters of the VIP fail water quality standards,” added Atty. Espiritu.
“Given the current challenges faced by the VIP, the DENR must stop derailing the issuance of guidance for the Declaration of Non-Attainment Areas, and declare the VIP as Non-Attainment Area. It must stop issuing discharge permits and ECCs until the waters are cleaned up, in the spirit of conscientious stewardship to protect the Verde Island Passage, and other threatened marine ecosystems in our country,” Father Gariguez concluded.
First page of the Petition for Writ of Continuing Mandamus filed.