Press Release
January 10, 2009

Vindicated, Pia lauds DENR scrapping of MOA with SBMA

The senator who initiated a congressional inquiry into reported violations of environmental regulations at the Subic Bay Freeport now feels vindicated with the recent decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to rescind a controversial memorandum of agreement (MOA) that delegated its authority to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

Senator Pia S. Cayetano welcomed the DENR's decision to scrap the 2006 MOA that authorized the SBMA to issue environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) for projects within the ecozone.

"This is a vindication for those who have long been questioning the legality and propriety of the agreement, especially with SBMA's failure to enforce environmental regulations and balance ecological concerns with investments inside the free port," she said.

"Although this is a delayed reaction to years of neglect by SBMA, we see the DENR decision as a positive move."

As then chairperson of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, Cayetano led an on-site inquiry to Subic in April last year to verify reports of environmental violations by Korean-owned Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp., which built two high-rise buildings in the middle of the Subic rainforest.

In the said hearing, it was discovered that Hanjin had already started digging and construction even before the ECC was granted. All this happened under the SBMA's watch.

"Our hearing clearly established SBMA's negligence in the case of the Hanjin condominiums. Even DENR officials present there acknowledged that there were serious violations that could have been prevented, if only the guidelines were being observed," she recalled.

It was also in the hearing where DENR revealed that SBMA had yet to comply with one important provision of the 2006 MOA which required it to submit a programmatic environmental compliance certificate for the ecozone.

"The MOA should have been immediately suspended or scrapped at that time since the SBMA was obviously not honoring its obligation under the agreement," she stressed.

Cayetano hopes that environment secretary Lito Atienza does good on his pronouncement that he will review all ECCs previously issued by the SBMA, including for recent controversial projects where environmental regulations were evidently disregarded.

She said one highly irregular permit issued by the SBMA is the "open-ended" ECC for the Hanjin shipyard which did not specify a limit to the land area covered by the project, and therefore virtually authorized the Korean shipbuilder to expand operations to other parts of the free port without asking for a new ECC.

Cayetano will also closely follow how the DENR will rule in the case of the controversial $120-million hotel and casino project of Grand Utopia Inc.

In a privilege speech last December, the senator urged the environment committee of Sen. Jamby Madrigal to look into the allegation of architect Felino Palafox that the construction plan for the hotel-casino project will lead to the cutting of 366 trees at the project site. She also called on the labor committee of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to probe the rising death toll of Filipino construction workers at the Hanjin shipyard. Both committee chairs have committed to shedule an inquiry when Congress resumes session.

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