‘Moratoriums address environment’s future, what about the present?’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 July)– The Valencia City Council’s resolution imposing moratorium on the expansion of banana and pineapple plantations is a sign that the city government wants a scientific approach to the problem of environmental degradation, but former environment regional director Raoul Geollegue said the resolution addresses a future problem but does not solve the present problems.

“You have to wake up to the realities that right now existing banana and pineapple plantations do not provide exacting measures to prevent occurrence of another flooding,” Geollegue told the hearing a week before the resolution was passed, according to a record of his presentation.

He added that by imposing the moratorium “until there is sufficient review” the city council has demonstrated they want to be “scientifically informed.”

“What can be done for the existing plantations? Let us open our eyes. The problem is now. How do we influence land use practices in the present plantations that surround Valencia?” he asked the city council.

Geollegue pushed for the use of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) in the upland farms. He admitted that SALT was previously viewed in the context of higher production.

“But now we have to introduce SALT in the context of flood mitigation,” he stressed.

Geollegue also cited the need for the city government to clearly define the problems and threats and its vision.

He said the city government must identify where it wants to go considering the need to balance between socio-economic, cultural, and ecological goals.

He said if the city government found out that the plantations do not put contours and canals and other mechanisms, then it should impose.

“It is important to have sanctions and mitigation measures if you look at ECC (environmental clearance certificate) in case they don’t deliver,” he added, citing that many companies in pursuit of their business interests “will try to maximize profit and minimize spending for protection.”

Geollegue said one mechanism to look into is to define performance bond and the arrangement of forfeiture in the event of failure of delivery of environmental commitments.

He said if the firms fail, the government must forfeit the bonds and use the money to install the structures for the mitigating measures.

Of the 2,500 hectares of plantation land in the city with approved ECCs, only 840 hectares are planted as of date, said City Councilor Almer Alfonso, chair of the environment, health and sanitation committee.

Geollegue, technical team leader of the Enterprise Works Worldwide, pushed for a review of the ECCs. He was among the co-conveners in the recently concluded joint meeting/conference of the Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council and the Bukidnon Watershed and River Basin Follow Through Committee held in Cagayan de Oro.

“Can you review if there are stipulations or mitigating measures that are not enough to protect slopes, lives and properties down the line? Let us be grounded,” he added.

The city council took Geollegue’s advice and said in their resolution they will hold a series of hearings to review the compliance of concerned firms to their commitments in the ECCs issued by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Councilor Glenn Peduche, chair of the committee on agriculture, said that they will facilitate the conduct of a multi-sector study to assess what the local government can do to improve protection of the city’s environment.

Geollegue cited that if the city wants to come up with a comprehensive study, then it must factor in the wisdom of the community folks.

“Involve the barangay officials, not just the experts from Manila. There is no substitute for experience,” he said, adding that local folks are at the forefront dealing with the floods. He pointed out, too, that multi-sectoral involvement should not be limited to planning but also implementation and monitoring.

Geollegue added that Valencia needs to have an office that oversees the standards and progress of interventions. The city government, he said, must initiate payment for environmental services that can be used by environmental stewards to restore and protect upland eco-system. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)