The following column was taken from the Opinion Section of
Malaya dated July 2, 2009
Atienza’s DENR Reforms
“If he can cut down the time for processing certificates and licenses, Atienza’s rating can only move up even higher.”
by Ducky Paredes
Line agencies of the government must find ways of being more useful to their stakeholders and be more service oriented. For instance, there is something wrong with the system when citizens must line up to pay their taxes. In more advanced societies, payment of taxes is made easier. Anyone who has lived abroad knows that tax payments are mailed in and drivers’ licenses are mailed to the driver on renewal.
Among the line agencies that have been getting a lot of complaints about red tape is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Un-issued and delayed clearances and certificates from the DENR that one needs for starting up certain businesses will often delay a start-up by several months.
On June 24, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza inaugurated the new DENR building in Koronadal City. In his message to DENR local officials and employees on that day, Lito spoke of a new Department policy direction that would move the DENR toward effective and efficient protection of the country’s environment and proper management of natural resources to benefit all Filipinos, especially the poor and other marginalized sectors.
On Tuesday this week, Aienza held a meeting of DENR stakeholders. Lito told them how the new rules would affect them. Generally, things would go faster. Paperwork that once took even years to get through the red tape germane to the government bureaucracy would go quicker. For instance, an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) that used to take months to get through the DENR mill would be out within 20 days. In fact, for those that are non-sensitive such as exemptions to having a full ECC, one could get it in a day.
Atienza told the stakeholders that he knows that often they are told that their papers are on the Secretary’s desk and that they are not signed because Atienza has not been to his office, then, he said, you are told that he knows someone who can get the papers signed and that, for a spot of cash, he can get it done by tomorrow.
Lito said that he wants to stop graft and corruption in the DENR in order to make the DENR and its services available to all investors and all Filipinos as against just a few who can bribe their way through the bureaucracy of the DENR. While, because they pay their way through the processing those who were issued an ECC considered this as having passed a stringent test, once armed with the ECC, they felt that the piece of paper now allowed them to do with the environment as they pleased. Lito explained that while the DENR would fast-track the process, having an ECC only binds the company to help protect the environment, As for the DENR, its work would shift more on the side of making sure that those with ECCs are compliant with the what is expected of them as spelled out in theis ECCs.
From basically an agency that approves projects that are environment-sensitive, the DENR’s new role would be more in checking (together with NGOs and other stakeholders) whether these companies are in fact actually helping to protect the environment even as they take what they can from the natural riches of the country.
To me, as a citizen, this seems the right way to go. Investors and businessmen who deal with the DENR have traditionally had only one complaint – it takes forever to get their approvals and ECCs from the DENR.
Here are the remarks that Lito made in Koronadal that outlines what he wants to do with the DENR:
“In a move to rid the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of corruption and hasten the flow of investment, I am calling for the immediate review of procedures and requirements in the issuance of environmental permits, including environmental compliance certificates (ECC).
“We need to hasten the process, simplify it, ease unnecessary requirements so that investors, both foreign and local, will eventually flow in upon getting the necessary clearances.
“This drastic streamlining that we will be doing will also remove occasions of graft and corruption and hasten the sustainable development of our natural resources. By streamlining processes in ECC acquisition and other requirements, we can help generate more investments and this will lead to more jobs for our fellow countrymen.
“It normally takes a year for an Environmental Compliance Certificate application to be approved, 17 weeks for mining permits and about three months for a Certificate of Non-Coverage. The ECC streamlining definitely cuts through all the red-tape and bureaucratic delays that companies experience in getting their ECCs approved.
“ECCs are part of the requirements for all development projects in the country as an assurance that the planning, construction and operations of these projects do not adversely affect the environment and human health.
“Presidential Decree No. 1586, which established the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, mandates that all environmentally-critical projects (ECPs) as well as projects that are located in environmentally-critical areas shall undergo thorough environmental impact assessment (EIA) to ensure the protection of the environment as well as the communities living within or near the project site.
“Such projects may include, for example, building a hydroelectric dam or factory, irrigating a large valley, or developing a harbor, which may generate impacts on flora, fauna, air quality, landscape and other features of the environment.
“Critical mine structures include tailings dams, waste dumps and small-scale mining areas, while geohazard areas refer to areas that are susceptible to landslides, floods, liquefaction, ground subsidence and other ground instabilities.
“Prior to the issuance of the ECC, project proponents are required to undertake an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to determine possible adverse environmental impacts of their proposed projects or activities and to come up with measures or strategies to reduce such impacts on the environment.”
From the responses that he received from some of the stakeholders – mostly from the BGOs and the academe – it will be some time before all of them will take to the new, faster, simpler and more stream-lined process as outlined by Lito Atienza.
As for the investors and those who are managing the mines and other projects tat are under the purview of the DENR, they can only agree that if the DENR can move faster on their requests and necessary paperwork, well and good. For the moment, they are waiting to see if Lito Atienza can actually tame the DENR bureaucracy to just do its job without waiting for their palms and fingers to be greased.
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Even without the faster processing, DENR Secretary Lito Atienza continues to be numero uno in nationwide performance rating surveys among Cabinet officials done by the Asia Research Center in partnership with HKPH Public Opinion and Research.
Lito is followed by Tourism Secretary Ace Durano; third behind Durano are Health Sec. Francisco Duque, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, and Agriculture head Arthur Yap.
If he can cut down the time for processing certificates and licenses, Atienza’s ratng can only move up even higher.
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