Fund delays mar ECC monitoring in Bukidnon

Glenn Peduche, MMT chair, said they were unable to conduct timely ECC compliance inspections in all projects in 2008 as the release of funds did not match their schedule based on their work and financial plan.

"We are always under the mercy of the people in the region (DENR EMB 10). If they don't release the funds, we can't move," Peduche told pollution control officers and other officials of companies required to comply with ECCs in Bukidnon in a consultative meeting here on February 20.

The EMF, a mandatory fund from proponents of ECCs to cover compliance monitoring cost, is managed by the DENR's Environmental Management Bureau 10 and a non-government organization called Guardians of the Earth Association Inc.

Peduche said the MMT initiated the meeting following failed attempts to ask EMB and GEAI officials to account and be transparent about the status of the EMF.

Only a third of the 2008 WFP, approved by the EMB, was released in 2008 according to estimates by MindaNews based on Peduche's pronouncements.

Of the P1.57 million approved WFP, only P516, 400 was released including P321, 400 in four releases and the 12-month salary for support staff at P195, 000.  The balance is about P1.05 million.

Peduche cited that the problem started in 2003, when the provincial government-initiated MMT began monitoring work.

He has since called for changes in the fund management scheme, including a plan to get rid of GEAI and replace it with a Bukidnon-based NGO for easier access.
GEAI, headed by Roberto V. Cabaraban as president, groups the PCOs and other officials of some of the ECC proponents. Its letterhead says it is located at the EMB regional office in Cagayan de Oro City.

The plan drew mixed reactions from the firms with some saying the process has to be simplified and others saying the MMT must sit down with the EMB, GEAI, and the proponents to iron out lapses.
Peduche cited in his presentation that except for some activities the approved plan was not followed. The releases of funds, he said, did not meet monitoring schedules and that monitoring was conducted only once instead of twice a year.

"The MMT's capacity to respond or attend to immediate complaints and issues was affected, too," he said.

"The GEAI failed to apprise us of the real status of the EMF with its questionable reports in a previous meeting in Cagayan de Oro," he told MindaNews after the consultation.

The MMT has monitored only 15 of 37 banana plantations, nine of 12 pineapple plantation projects, three of 26 poultry projects, and five of the 16 piggery projects in the province for 2008. The scoreboard says they monitored only a total of 35 or 34 percent of the 102 projects they were supposed to cover.

The MMT secretariat reported in the meeting that they were able to monitor all three of the industrial projects and nine of the complaints lodged before them.

The MMT was able to monitor 35 projects in 2008, but only two of these underwent the required bi-annual inspections.

The MMT secretariat, however, could not say if the approved WFP, computed at around P1.57 million, covers all 102 projects.

Ma. Gina Doydora, aide to the head of the secretariat, said the MMT prioritizes only a number of projects they can monitor in a year.

There are at least 500 ECCs in the province, Peduche said, including the 102 they have prioritized under "agro-industries".

Peduche chairs the committee on environmental protection, natural resources, land use and human settlement at the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

The government requires proponents of ECCs to put up an EMF to cover the 14-member MMT's cos
t of two inspections per year. The companies deposit the fund to GEAI, which manages the use of the fund after EMB regional director Sabdullah Abubacar approves the MMT's WFP.

But the MMT has cried foul over alleged lack of transparency in the way the fund is being managed.

"We have to idea how much was deposited by the proponents to the EMF," he told the meeting as he requested the firms to furnish his office with a copy of their deposit slips.

"We need to know how much was deposited so we can tell GEAI this is the amount and why only this much was approved," said Agustilo Obsioma, provincial DENR officer, and MMT vice chair.

Many participants said they are willing to furnish a copy of the deposit slip as others voiced out their views on the possible reasons and solutions for the delay.

Francis Rivera, manager of Del Monte Philippines Inc, said the MMT should request the DENR to order GEAI to give updates on the balances of the EMF.

He said the problem could be in closing of cash advances, which could possibly delay subsequent cash advances.

Jerry Manubag, Mt. Kitanglad Agri-Development Corporation (MKADC) pollution control officer, said it could only be a miscommunication problem since the GEAI has a link only with the EMB and not the MMT.

He cited a supposed agreement in a previous meeting that only half of the approved WFP would be released as the other half would be discussed later.

He said there is a need to consider the records of the GEAI to match financial reports. He cited that a GEAI report discussed of at least 40 percent of funds not yet released due to documentation concerns.

The MMT clarified in the rationale of the meeting that it was also triggered by a new policy in the Multi-Stakeholders Participation Handbook on the provisions on funding support.

The Secretariat admitted to MindaNews they needed to finish the MMT's Manual of Operations and mandatory revisions in the memorandum of agreement. 

"There are a lot of things that need to be reconciled but the ball is in the hands of the EMB. Since we didn't get instruction of the revisions, we thought the old policies still hold," Ma. Gina Doydora of the MMT secretariat said.

Feliciano Perater Jr, Busco Sugar Milling Corporation PCO, said the EMF should not be delayed so the process has to be simplified.

"Since EMB is the lead agency here, let's go to them directly to help us protect Bukidnon," he said.

Another PCO said it is the system that needs to be improved.

Peduche said the MMT has passed resolutions to the EMB about the status of the EMF but that there was no response.

"We were not given any document, that's why we have no basis," he said.

He then called for the transfer of fund management to a local NGO. But most participants were lukewarm to the idea and pushed instead for a meeting with the EMB and the GEAI to iron out things.

The consultation ended with a decision to meet with officials from the EMB and the GEAI on March 5 at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan session hall. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)