Group Lauds Cebu Environmental Lawyers for Exposing Flawed and Toxic Project

Quezon City. An environmental coalition based in Quezon City has extolled topnotch lawyers of Cebu for helping unmasked an obviously flawed and ecologically-destructive project that is now the hottest news in the province.

“We commend Cebu lawyers Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Benjamin Cabrido and other fearless crusaders for environmental protection and justice for their unyielding energy to fight for what is good for the people and the ecosystems,” said Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“The anomaly in the provincial government’s purchase of submerged lands and their notorious plan to dump coal combustion waste in the area could have not come out in the open were it not for the lawyers’ watchfulness and courage to ask and probe,” he added.

“They are true patriots worthy of our respect and should be honored, not vilified, for their great service to Cebu and to the nation ,” Calonzo stated.

“The latest turn of events, including Gov. Garcia’s admission of mistake in throwing away public funds to buy lands underwater, shows how ill-conceived the coal ash dumpsite project is. The government has no decent recourse but to scrap the plan and let justice roll and reign,” he further said.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia recently apologized and took full responsibility for the land mess that saw the Capitol paying P98-million for a 25-hectare coastal property of which 8 hectares were underwater and 1.4 hectares were covered by mangroves.

Subsequent clarification by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR Region 7) showed that the agency had recommended the reversion of over 20 hectares of beach lots as they are either submerged in sea water or are coastal timberlands.

Atty. Cabrido and Atty. Ramos were instrumental in bringing to the surface the controversial purchase that was meant to be used as dumping site for the coal combustion waste of the expanded Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) plant in Naga City.

As partners of the Global Legal Action on Climate Change, the two lawyers wrote to Gov. Garcia, Vice-Gov. Gregorio Sanchez and to the members of the Cebu Provincial Board on 2 July 2009 insisting public access to information about the “extremely hazardous” venture.

Atty. Ramos, who teaches law at the University of Cebu, and Atty. Cabrido, who also teaches law at the University of San Jose Recoletos, chided the officials for engaging in coal ash dumping and demanded, among others, a copy of the deed of sale for the coastal property that is now under public scrutiny.

Gov. Garcia’s failure to heed the lawyers’ demand for the right to information and citizens’ participation in the decision-making processes for the coal ash dumpsite project compelled Atty. Cabrido and Atty. Ramos to file a case with the Ombudsman against the Governor and other officials on 17 August 2009.

It was only after filing of the case when the two lawyers obtained copies of the requested documents on 19 August 2009.

The lawyers’ persistence to ask and probe prompted the EcoWaste Coalition to send separate letters to the Cebu Provincial Government and to the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) through Secretary Lito Atienza and Director Julian Amador of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

The waste and pollution watchdog urged Gov. Garcia “learn from the unfolding health and environmental problems in US due to the toxic releases from coal combustion waste ponds, pits, dumpsites and landfills.”

The group also urged the Governor “to apply the precautionary principle, reconsider its coal ash deal with KEPCO, and prevent a potential chemical crisis that will even cost more than the US$1-million promised by the company.”

In their letter to DENR, the EcoWaste Coalition requested information about existing regulations governing the use and disposal of coal combustion waste and also sought Sec. Atienza’s opinion on the planned coal ash dumping in Naga City.

Over a month has already lapsed and the offices of Gov. Garcia and Sec. Atienza have yet to respond to the letters and queries by the EcoWaste Coalition.

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