Press Release
February 19, 2014

GOCC Watchdog Reprimands PRA about Reclamation Approval Process
Agrees with Villar that national interest should prevail over 'commercial value' or potential profit

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) received a mouthful of stern reminder from the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs) or GCG, which is the monitoring agency governing it, during the recent inquiry conducted by the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises led by its chairperson Senator Cynthia Villar.

The PRA has been subject to public scrutiny and criticisms regarding its National Reclamation Plan, which include over 100 reclamation projects covering 38,000 hectares, 38 of which encompassing 26,234 hectares or 70% will be implemented in Manila Bay.

"The only impetus that drives the PRA in pushing for reclamation is apparently huge potential investment as PRA seems to rely heavily on this and not on the exercise of promoting public interest. Is huge potential investment a concern or area of expertise of PRA?" Villar asked during the Senate inquiry.

While Atty. Jose Gonzales, PRA's Assistant General Manager for Legal & Administrative Services, cited in the Senate hearing that the national reclamation plan is "nothing more than a blueprint and not an implementation plan", PRA's five-stage process in identifying reclamation projects does not take into consideration national interest and lacks public consultation.

"It is the obligation of the PRA (as a regulatory body) to actually define a national reclamation plan, more than just a actually provide the country with a plan that takes all national interests into consideration," said Cesar Villanueva, Chairman of GCG. As a GOCC, GCG has monitoring and supervising authority over PRA. He cited that GCG has been asking the PRA board to submit it as a requirement of their yearly performance evaluation.

Villanueva added that what is needed is a "true development plan" that does not only take into account the technical or economic feasibility of a reclamation project. GCG also criticized that five-stage process of PRA, particularly the parts where the feasibility study and consultation process are done by a private sector group and identified proponent--the independence and fairness of which is compromised.

"If there is a proponent already that means PRA is already pushing this with a private sector proponent and the main drive of that would have to be profit...feasibility studies are done in ways that become lucrative and viable depending on who are pushing for it," said the GCG chairman.

PRA admitted that it does not have the financial capacity or capability to conduct pre-feasibility study and consultation. But according to GCG, PRA should spend its budget to hire its own experts to do its own studies and develop a national reclamation plan after consulting all those involved.

"The PRA is in charge of coordinating all policies and project when it comes to reclamation. The entire country depends on them when it comes to their commissioned projects. All government agencies and the public have to depend (on the fact) that PRA does it job," said Villanueva.

One of GCG's mandate over GOCCs is to "review the functions of each of the GOCC and, upon determination that there is a conflict between the regulatory and commercial functions of a GOCC, recommend to the President in consultation with the government agency to which the GOCC is attached, the privatization of the GOCCs commercial operations, or the transfer of the regulatory functions to the appropriate government agency, or such other plan of action to ensure that the commercial functions of the GOCC do not conflict with such regulatory functions".

"PRA is not there to make money. They are there to serve public interest. If in the process of making money, you don't serve public interest, then there is no justification for you to make money. It should be the public interest first," Villar said.

Villar cited as example a proposed reclamation project in Manila Bay where affected residents of Las Piñas and Parañaquewere not consulted by proponent Alltech Inc. and will also affect the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat Eco-Tourism Area (LPPCHEA). The 175-hectare LPPCHEA is a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation Nos. 1412 and 1412-A. It is listed as one of the world's most important wetlands in the world in the Ramsar List along with the Tubbataha Reef in Sulu and the Underground River in Palawan.

However, during the hearing last Tuesday, Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna, OIC-Director, Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) assured Villar that LPPCHEA will be spared from any planned reclamation.

Villar's proposed Senate Resolution 294 was one of the agenda of the Senate hearing on Tuesday, which sought to look into the mandate, powers and responsibilities of the PRA with the end view of introducing reforms, revisions and amendments to ensure that the PRA powers and functions are being exercised consistent with public interest.

The GCG is also mandated to "evaluate the performance and determination of the relevant of GOCCs, to ascertain whether any of them should be reorganized, merged, streamlined, abolished or privatized".

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