Legal liability looming for Lipa if RA 9003 not followed?

 

MANILA and LIPA CITIES—Unless Lipa City, its officials, and its communities and residents fix the city-wide garbage problem, legal issues loom for city officials.

As a 2015 report of the Commission on Audit bared that the city is “not 100 percent complaint” with Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, local officials can be sued even, says an environmental advocate.

The local government unit must be pressured to fix the community’s solid wastes problem, says Dr. Arlen Ancheta of the Mother Earth Foundation. “If they are not doing anything, then the LGU should be sued.”

Ancheta recalls the case MEF filed to officials from four barangays in Caloocan City during the time of then Mayor Recom Echiverri. The cases did not prosper though.

Environmental Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera (middle) is spearheading efforts by the Office of the Ombudsman to check on local officials' compliance with Republic Act 9003. Local officials founnd not complying with RA 9003 may be sued by the ombudsman. (photo from the Philippine Information Agency)

Environmental Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera (middle) is spearheading efforts by the Office of the Ombudsman to check on local officials’ compliance with Republic Act 9003. Local officials founnd not complying with RA 9003 may be sued by the ombudsman. (photo from the Philippine Information Agency)

Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed complaints against 50 LGUs and close to 600 officials in 13 administrative regions for non-compliance with RA 9003. The filing of affidavit-complaints was done on behalf of the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The LGUs and the local officials were not yet named, though.

The Office of the Ombudsman has environmental ombudsmen covering the country’s three major island groupings. During the 2016 ceremonial filing of cases, Deputy Environmental Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera said the LGUs will be subject to fact-finding investigations to check their compliance with RA 9003.

Subpoenas will be issued, and the LGUs will be mandated to develop six-month Priority Corrective Action Plans (PCAPs) given the solid waste issues in their localities.

Since the ceremonial filing last Feb. 10, 2016, nine public hearings nationwide had been held for LGUs concerned to present their PCAPs. DENR’s regional offices and environmental NGOs then reviewed these documents.

And should the LGUs concerned fail to submit or implement these PCAPs, and sustain the actions that were promised in these PCAPs, their cases will be elevated to full-blown investigations.

In the 2016 complaints filed, NSWMC’s Romeo Hildago said mayors, vice-mayors and Sanggunian members have “the mandate to establish policies and having control over the funds of the city” and that “they conspired in committing the violations of R.A. No. 9003 within their jurisdiction.”

The Ombudsman launched in April 2013 a Solid Waste Management Law Voluntary Compliance Assessment and Promotion Program. That time, the Ombudsman sent out letters asking LGUs to fill up a “solid waste management compliance self-assessment report” (this being phase 1 of the project).

There LGUs were asked to rate themselves given six sections of RA 9003: mandatory segregation of wastes (Sec. 21), setting up of materials recovery facilities (Sec. 32), no segregation, no collection rule (Sec. 48), closure and rehabilitation of open/controlled disposal facilities (Sec. 37), usage of sanitary landfill or alternative technology (Sec. 41), and submission of a ten-year solid waste management plan (Sec. 16).

In 2015, the Ombudsman cited tracer results showing that RA 9003 “remains to be the least-prioritized local government program”. Even the DENR and its attached agency, the Environment Management Bureau (EMB), submitted a list of 350 LGUs “with recurring and blatant violations of open dump sites.”

One example is in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. In 2013, Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija Mayor Julius Cesar V. Vergara was sued by the Ombudsman and his case was tried at the Sandiganbayan’s first division given the city’s open trash dump, violating section 37 of RA 9003 that prohibits open dumpsites.

The said open dumpsite is found in Brgys. Valle Cruz and San Cruz, and the city government under Vergara failed to convert the area into a controlled dump site. A motion for reconsideration was filed in 2013 and the Sandiganbayan granted Vergara’s motion. Vergara had been re-elected for a third term last May 2016.

Submitting PCAPs makes up phase 2 of the Solid Waste Management Law Voluntary Compliance Assessment and Promotion Program.

The environmental ombudsman team can also act “on any malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance committed by any public officer or employee, including conspiring private individuals, if said act or omission involves any violation of environmental laws or concerns or relates to environmental protection or conservation.”

Last January, Sunstar Bacolod reported that DENR Undersecretary Arturo Valdez warned mayors of Negros Occidental province that they should strictly implement RA 9003 “or else they will face charges” administratively in accordance with Republic Act 7160 or the Code of Ethical Conduct of Public Officials.

But even ordinary citizens can be penalized, fined and charged for violating RA 9003. The list of prohibited acts are found in RA 9003’s section 48 like littering in public places, open burning of solid waste, squatting in open dumpsites and landfills, or even unauthorized removal of recycled materials that are intended for collection.

City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Ricardo Libon told The Filipino Connection his office is not worried of the COA report’s recommendations. Libon said his office was able to justify the reasons why Lipa City is not 100 percent compliant with RA 9003.

Libon also showed letters to barangay captains that they need to comply with the law, but it seems solid waste management is among least priority projects of these barangays —infrastructure projects are their priority reportedly— “even if garbage is the problem.”

with a report from Marlon Alexander Luistro, Editor

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About JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO