Public Participation in Reclamation Projects

Process of Reclamation

As of April 1, 2022, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) has recorded 180 pending reclamation projects across the country.

Reclamation projects can be initiated by either the PRA, the Local Government Units pursuant to the Local Government Code, the National Government, or the Government-Owned-and-Controlled Corporations (GOCCs) mandated under existing laws to reclaim.

On February 1, 2019, Executive Order (EO) No. 74-2019, which repealed EO No. 798-2009 and EO No. 146-2013, took effect and effectively transferred the PRA to the control and supervision of the Office of the President. EO 74-2019 also delegated to the PRA Governing Board the power of the President to approve reclamation projects. This was done to maximize utilization and hasten the development of reclaimed lands.

What’s in it for the Public

Land reclamation is driven by overriding public interest. These projects give an opportunity for the creation of a well-planned place and community when nearby urban areas are experiencing decay and overcrowding or when an area is no longer ideal for people to live, work and do business. Likewise, the government initiates land reclamation projects as a viable and practical option rather than procure right–of-ways in congested urban areas to be used as platform for vital government infrastructure projects such as airports, ports, roads, bridges, water, and power utilities or simply to decongest traffic in a particular area.

Generally, local governments pursue reclamation projects to provide sustainable development in their areas to trigger economic growth.

One step forward, two steps back.

On March 2, 2022, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Central Visayas has recalled its earlier decision giving the Municipality of Consolacion in Cebu Province the permission to proceed with its 235.8-hectare reclamation project. This came after several fisherfolks in the area protested, claiming that they were never consulted about the project either by the municipal government or by the BFAR.

Last March 31, 2022, then President Rodrigo Duterte told media that he has directed acting Environment Secretary to halt the acceptance of applications for reclamation activities.

Further, on May 12, 2022, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has canceled the environmental compliance certificate of a 51-hectare reclamation project in Coron, Palawan. Based on the report of the DENR, the project lacked necessary permits such as an area clearance. The Provincial Board was fined.

Land Reclamation is a complicated issue, full of legal hurdles to overcome. The probability of success of a reclamation project depends on the strict compliance with the technical rules set in place to ensure that public interest is best served.

DILG Memorandum Circular No. 2022-018

To help guide the proponents of Land Reclamation Projects, on February 17, 2022, the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued Memorandum Circular No. 2022-018 (M.C. No. 2022-018), “Reiteration of the Roles and Responsibilities of Local Government Units relative to Projects Covered by the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System”. The underlying purpose of this Memorandum Circular is to ensure that socio-economic progress does not come at the expense of the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology. M.C. No. 2022-018 clarifies the duties of all LGUs when initiating reclamation projects.

Before an approved reclamation project is implemented, a proponent must secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), which is issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In projects initiated by LGUs, M.C. No. 2022-018 reminds them that public consultations and public hearings must be made prior to the issuance of an Environmental Compliance Certificate, and this participation by the public must be secured at the earliest possible stage of the project, until post-assessment monitoring. The LGU must also prepare a report on the results of the public consultations or hearings, including issues and critical inputs raised. It must conduct information, education, and communication [drives], to inform and develop the public’s awareness and understanding of the project.

The LGU must also ensure that the reclamation projects are previously identified in their Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), as well as in their Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). Furthermore, the LGU must coordinate with the project proponent on informing and consulting identified stakeholders in both direct and indirect impact areas of project proposal at the earliest stage of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as possible, and that all concerns and agreements by the stakeholders are properly documented and incorporation in the EIA report. Additionally, a copy of the full Environmental Impact Study must be shared to stakeholders through the LGUs’ websites or local public information social media platforms.

Lastly, public participation is required not only at the start of the reclamation project. Even when the reclamation project is already underway, public involvement is still necessary through the Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT) which assists the DENR in ensuring the project proponent’s compliance with the conditions under its ECC. The MMT is composed of the Environment and Natural Resources Officer, the Rural Health Unit Chief, and the concerned Barangay Captain. MC No. 2022-018 reiterates that any willful violation of this memorandum circular shall be subject to administrative, civil, or criminal liability in accordance with existing laws.

This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.

Duane Michaels U. Po is an associate of the Cebu Branch of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).

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