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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Environmental impact assessment as a management tool / Philippines.

Posted By: Miguel Fortes
Date: Wednesday, 7 July 1999, at 6:08 p.m.

In Response To: Environmental impact assessment and capacity building. (Maria Rosario Partidario)

EIA AND TOURISM IN THE PHILIPPINES: The case in Papua New Guinea, as described by my good friend and 'kababayan' (meaning, countryman, since he is married to a Filipina, a wise practice, indeed!), is similar, but on a slightly larger physical scale, to a case in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, one of our two Biosphere Reserves in the Philippines. But they spell similar problems and prospects, similar groups of stakeholders involved, and very similar setting, only that ours involves unregulated activities all in the name of tourism. This case made me a 'persona non grata' in the area for about a year in 1994, to the extent that a 'shoot-to-kill' order was issued under my name by the resort developers I went against. This is not to dramatise the point, but this emphasises one thing: when self-interest is at stake, people will do anything, they will even sell their mother for a cent!

EIA AS A REGULATORY TOOL: We in the Philippines have a fairly good EIS system - but largely on paper - and it took us (I was directly involved in its development) at least thirteen years before it became fully operational and complied with by people. And we still face the same problems as you stated. We are now using the EIA not just a regulatory tool of government, but a management tool in our effort to 'ease up' the degradation of our environment. With it, we have been able to literally stop polluting projects and encourage those with benign intents. The crowning point in all these efforts is the case of the proposed Bolinao Cement Plant Complex. This was a multinational multibillion Peso project (Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines). But with the concerted effort of the people's organisations, backed by the academe, we were able to have it scrapped by the government - but only after almost four years. Our lobbying against the project at the 6th International Coral Reef Symposium in Panama in 1996, plus support by the world's marine scientists made a breakthrough in the history of our environmentalism: for the first time, opinions from scientists even outside the Philippines carried weight and are now considered in the social acceptability criteria. (Bolinao is where we have our marine lab, up in the north of the Philippines; the area we have been studying "to the death," so we have all the data we need to refute the consultants' claims -another wise practice).

REASONS FOR SUCCESSES AT PUERTO GALERA: Back to Puerto Galera. There are a lot of positive changes going on. What we did or what happened in Puerto Galera may be of interest to you, Haraka, and I hope to many others who experienced or are experiencing similar dilemma. The improvement we now have in the area is due primarily to the following:

(1) Relentless pursuit of academic goals in the area by our university, which has been in the area since the 1930s. We have undertaken research projects that address environmental degradation coupled with livelihood activities, and educational campaigns emphasising good examples from other areas, adopting the area as a laboratory for theses and dissertations, and class projects;

(2) Sustained support by one or two families, who have been in the area since the '50s and who infused funds for the upgrade of facilities e.g. cottage industries, waste management, academic, religious and services infrastructure;

(3) UNESCO intervention, re Man and Biosphere Programme, infusing international support and image;

(4) Minimal dependence upon government support which, unfortunately, gave more problems than solutions;

(5) A new local government that is so supportive of the real people's needs and aspirations, and most of all;

(6) A functional combination of all these factors, all efforts converging and focusing to address a few, but priority issues, guided by a sense of loyalty, respect for nature, environmental ethics, and by a belief that no matter what, humans are united by an innate character that is for our common good.

This may sound too profound or as you said, weird, especially to westerners, but it took us this long to fully grasp and realise the effectiveness of our 'wise practice.' Time also helps. For more details on our activities, please refer to my earlier input (Combining research and education in protected area management / Ulugan Bay-Philippines).

RISK ASSESSMENT: One point I would like to include is perhaps, considering the magnitude of the proposed project, risk assessment would be helpful.

REGULATIONS IMPOSED BY MAJOR FUNDING AGENCIES: The World Bank and other large funding agencies have their own set of guidelines on how to undergo EIA. Their standards are sometimes even more stringent. But what gives developing countries problems in this respect is that these agencies do not adjust their administrative procedures to local realities, e.g. they require that the proponent agency come up with the required scientific study in only 3 - 6 months! All because they are after some deadlines, otherwise, the borrowed money earns such high interests! And their schedules are ridiculously out of the reach of the local governments.

So these are all my inputs for now. Many, many thanks. Good luck.

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