Environmental justice group takes DENR to Ombudsman for dereliction of duty over Atimonan CFPP

Photo: Quezon environmental organization TAPAK’s anti-coal action in solidarity with a recent Global Climate Strike.

After months of unfruitful snail-paced exchanges with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) over a simple request for access to documents regarding the Atimonan coal-fired power plant (CFPP) project, the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) this week filed a complaint against the DENR for its unwarranted opacity.

Atty. Avril De Torres, Research Policy, and Law Program Head of CEED, explains that CEED in July requested for copies of documents regarding a petition previously filed by residents of Atimonan in 2015 for the cancellation of the Environmental Compliance Certificate issued to the CFPP project of Atimonan One Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Meralco.

”It took the DENR two months to issue a simple response denying the request as the documents should be specifically listed,” De Torres said.

According to De Torres, a representative of CEED then personally requested the records from DENR-EMB on November 5 with complete details as required by the office, and followed up on it after three days, still to no avail.

“November 12 marks a full week since we asked for the records, and the DENR continues to dally – a clear violation of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 as amended by the Ease of Doing Business Act and Efficient Delivery of Government Services of 2018, which says that favorable action should have been made within 3 days from receipt of request.”

“Already, land is being cleared, roads are being constructed, and ecosystems are being disturbed in the proposed project site in Atimonan. With this, it is questionable as to whose interests the DENR is really protecting. This appalling lack of urgency by which DENR responds to inquiries; the obscurity of processes needed to gain access to information regarding the environmental impacts of energy projects being developed – these make it apparent that it sure isn’t the public’s,” said De Torres.

CEED Executive Director Gerry Arances notes that what is being rushed instead by the government body tasked with the conservation of the environment is, ironically, its degradation.

“When placed side by side with the fast-tracking of the implementation of the A1E coal plant after it was granted an Energy Project of National Significance (EPNS) status through President Duterte’s Executive Order 30, the snail’s pace by which DENR responded to an inquiry concerned with the project’s threats to the environment becomes even more horrific,” said Arances, who is also the Convenor of the Power for People (P4P) Coalition.

Last October, CEED with the P4P Coalition asked for the revocation of Executive Order 30 through a case filed at the Supreme Court.

“By streamlining the processing of requirements necessary for projects deemed as EPNS, many important measures set in place to protect the environment and host communities are being circumvented. This makes EO30 undoubtedly unconstitutional,” Arances stressed.

“We filed a complaint against EMB-CO Director Engr. William Cunado and EMB-Region IVA Director Noemi Paranada because it has become apparent that while A1E is benefiting from streamlined processes, stakeholders are conversely being disadvantaged by their red tape processes,” he said.

“We are reminding the DENR that their mandate is to protect the interests of the public and the integrity of ecosystems,” De Torres concluded.