Mayor wants time to study freeze on plantation expansion

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/ 25 July) –City Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata expressed reservations on Wednesday regarding the moratorium on plantation expansion approved by the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) due to possible economic repercussions.

Catarata told MindaNews he will be very careful in rendering a decision because “even if it is just a short term moratorium, it might have long term consequences.”

“We need to carefully study this move. We have to balance between whatever reasons they have with the economic consequences,” he told MindaNews on the phone.

The mayor admitted he has yet to read the resolution, and even if he did, he said there was no need for him to sign it “since it is merely an expression of the city councilors’ sentiments.”

Catarata said there’s “a need to conduct a deeper and careful study on the effects of these plantations to the environment and food security.”

Councilor Almer Alfonso, chair of the committee on environment, health and sanitation, authored the resolution. He told MindaNews last Monday that money earned from plantations will be useless if the environment is destroyed.

The mayor noted the moratorium “is an insult to both the departments of Agriculture and the Environment and Natural Resources.”

The Sangguniang Panlungsod passed on July 16 the resolution imposing a moratorium on the expansion of fruit plantations here pending the review of policies affecting the local environment and agriculture.

Glenn Peduche, chair of the city council’s committee on agriculture, said in a telephone interview last week they will hold a series of hearings to review the concerned firms’ adherence to the environmental compliance certificates (ECC) issued by the Environmental Management Bureau, an agency under the DENR.

Peduche added that they will also facilitate the conduct of a multi-sectoral study to assess what the local government can do to improve the protection of the city’s environment.

But Peduche said they never meant to drive away plantation companies.

“We will schedule a dialogue with the affected companies to explain to them what we are doing,” he added.

Peduche, who has chaired Bukidnon’s multi-partite monitoring team when he served as provincial board member from 2001 to 2010, said that after the comprehensive review, they will decide whether to lift the moratorium or draft an ordinance to make it permanent or another ordinance that encompasses the recommendations of the review.

Peduche said last week the expansion had already taken its toll on the city’s food security.

Representatives from different sectors – including barangay captains from flood-prone barangays such as Bagonta-as, Sugod, and Tugaya – appeared at the regular session of the city council Monday to express their position on the issue.

The Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) has passed a resolution urging the city council to immediately prohibit the expansion of banana and pineapple plantations.

Vice Mayor Azucena Huervas said on the phone the ABC, which met and passed the resolution on June 21 and transmitted it to the city council on June 29, cited among other reasons the need to maintain a healthy and balanced communities and the need for the city government and other authorities to evaluate the possible environmental impact of plantation expansion.

The ABC cited that proponents of plantations need an endorsement from the barangay and the city council to proceed, aside from obtaining an ECC from the DENR.

Huervas said that successive flashfloods that hit Valencia during heavy rains, among other reasons, have triggered the city council since last week to draft its resolution on declaring a moratorium.

In February last year, the city council passed a resolution to suspend the issuance of endorsements to new agricultural plantations pending the completion of its Comprehensive Land Use Plan .

Valencia SP’s resolution to impose a moratorium came after the SP of neighboring Malaybalay City unanimously approved last April 10 an urgent resolution to impose a moratorium on the expansion of fruit plantations in their city.

The same resolution was passed in response to a resolution earlier passed by Malaybalay’s Association of Barangay Councils. Fruit companies questioned the moratorium but the city council said the resolution “will stay for a long time.”

Board member Roland Deticio and  Nemesio Beltran Jr, majority floor leader of the Bukidnon provincial board, which exercises oversight function on municipal and city councils, said the city council can express their sentiments in a resolution but without an ordinance, the mayor can decide to defy it.

Del Monte Philippines, Inc. is among the agricultural companies operating in Bukidnon. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)