Lito Atienza's Blog

FIGHTING RED TAPE by Fel V. Maragay | July 8, 2009



Since the Arroyo administration launched a crackdown on bureaucratic red tape several years ago, the shortening of the processing, approval and release of environmental compliance certificates has always been on top of the list of commitments made by whoever the secretary of the Environment Department.

Whether a state agency or private company is building a power plant, factory, oil depot, dam or seaport or embarking on mining, quarrying or logging activities, it needs a compliance certificate from the department to ensure the protection of the environment, as well as the safety and health of the people living within or near the project site. In other words, without an ECC, any industrial or development project will not take off.

But a pledge to streamline and speed up the processing system is easier said than done. What is lacking is the determination and sense of urgency to put the necessary mechanism and achieve the desired change. More often than not, the officials concerned would forget about the objective soon after the Cabinet planning and goal-setting session on the anti-red tape campaign. A noteworthy objective goes awry because of the “ningas-cogon” mentality, creating false expectation that frustrates the business community and the public.

To everybody’s amazement, Environment Department Secretary Lito Atienza has resurrected the campaign to cut the red tape in handling ECC applications. He said this is in consonance with President Arroyo’s program to eliminate bureaucratic bottlenecks that block the flow of investments into the country and serve as breeding grounds for corrupt practices.

Normally, it takes a year for an ECC application to be approved, 17 weeks for mining permits and about three months for certificates of non-coverage. Atienza wants the approval of the ECC to be shortened to one month and the issuance of the non-coverage certificate to just one day. He says that the simplified procedures will not compromise his department’s primary task of protecting the environment since they will see to it that investors comply with the law.

“I assure investors and businessmen, both foreign and local, that the department will carry out reforms that would hasten the issuance of permits by removing unnecessary requirements,” Atienza told stakeholders from various sectors during a consultation meeting at the Environment Department social hall in Quezon City June 30. “The simplification of the environment compliance certificate procedures is not just about reducing the processing time, but more importantly to strengthen accountability, improve efficiency, remove opportunities for corruption and promote transparency for sustainable development.”

While the Environment Department is committed to fast-track the process, the environment czar wants owners and executives of industrial and agricultural firms to be more conscious of their responsibility in protecting and preserving the environment. He stressed that they should discard any false notion that with an ECC in their hands, they can do with their surroundings whatever they please.

The Environment Department, Atienza says, will beef up its capability and enlist the help of non-government organizations to make sure that the ECC holders will fulfill the obligations required of them by this document as far as protecting the environment is concerned. This goes without saying that those that will be caught in the act of destroying the environment and flagrantly violating the terms and conditions of the ECC will have to bear the consequences of their offense—the revocation of their ECC and other permits.

Earlier, Atienza formed a committee, chaired by Environment Management Bureau Director Julian Amador, to review and find ways to upgrade Environment Impact Assessment System, particularly in reducing the time for processing the ECC and gave it until the first week of July to submit its recommendations. The other members of the committee were Asst. Secretary Jeremias Dolino as vice chairman and Asst. Secretaries Analiza Teh, Juan Miguel Cuna and all directors of the bureaus under the Environment Department as members.

The question at the back of everybody’s mind is this: will Atienza be able to set this simplified system of ECC issuance in place and keep it working and succeed where his predecessors have failed? To be sure, his new program thrust will elicit sneers and catcalls from cynics and detractors. Perhaps they will ask why Atienza is doing this only now, about two years after taking over the helm of the Environment Department and 11 months before the exit of the Arroyo presidency?

Admittedly, an endeavor as important as shortening the ECC processing period is a bit late in coming. Maybe it’s because in the past months, Atienza had to zero in on other tasks of his department that occupied a higher rung in the totem pole of priorities. But if you go over his track record for doing things, your skepticism over his zeal and sincerity for implementing his new policy will vanish, or you will at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

For instance, the Environment Department chief launched last year a campaign to clean up and save the heavily polluted Laguna Lake, the country’s biggest fresh water lake, by demolishing the illegal fish pens and cages that block the free flow of water and deprive small, subsistence fishermen of their mean of livelihood. A huge number of these unwanted structures have been torn down. And when the demolition slowed down, he publicly censured Laguna Lake Development Authority general manager Edgar Manda for failing to resist pressures from active and retired military-police generals who own the fish pens and cages.

Atienza next set his eyes on the demolition of similar fish pens and cages in the Manila Bay off the coast of Parañaque and Cavite that contributed to the pollution of this body of water. He was more successful in this goal because the demolition was carried out fast and the attempts of the fisherfolk to rebuild the structures were effectively foiled.

In the wake of over-mining of once-rich deposits of nickel, copper, chromite and other minerals in various parts of the country and illegal exportation of mineral ores due to the proliferation and indiscriminate issuance of small mining permits, the environment chief acted quickly to stop the dangerous activities without fear or favor from anyone. He created enemies when revoked the authority of provincial governors to issue small mining and mineral ore export permits. It was only when he secured an assurance from the governors to be more circumspect in exercising such power that he rescinded his order.

Despite the inroads made by the Environment Department in performing its mandate tasks under his stewardship, why is Atienza’s confirmation still hanging at the Commission on Appointments more than two years after he was appointed to his Cabinet post? Are there complaints and objections to his appointment? You will not believe this, but do you know that the CA’s committee on environment and natural resources, chaired by Senator Jamby Madrigal, has not yet called or held any confirmation hearing on the Atienza appointment up to this day. Many are wondering why, including Senate President and committee chairman Juan Ponce Enrile. In view of this, it is wrong to say that Atienza has been repeatedly bypassed by the bicameral Commission. It is only when the concerned committee fails to endorse a Cabinet appointment after a hearing or series of hearings that the same can be considered bypassed upon the adjournment of Congress.


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