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No public consultation

The public consultation process has been enshrined in our laws with regard to applications for environmental compliance certificates and the exploitation of our natural resources. Even small-time riverbed quarrying is subject to the social acceptance principle to make sure that development is always balanced with public welfare and sustainable utilization of natural resources.

Hence, it came as a big surprise, and shock, for me when I learned that the private port development project of the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City did not go through a consultation with residents of the area. In an arrogant manner, Atty. Ana Lea Uy, chief legal counsel of the company, told local officials that the endorsement made by the City Council for this project four years ago was compliance to the public consultation requirement.

I’m sorry to tell Atty. Uy that it fails to satisfy that requirement. In fact, the city council should review its passage of the resolution because it was apparently done without much forethought about its long-term effects. The resolution was “muscled through” upon the intervention of a hefty politician from Iloilo City at the height of his power. Now, the short-cut taken by La Filipina Uygongco is coming back at them.

That’s because residents of Barangay Ingore are now up in arms over the anxiety and sleepless nights the hauling operations of the Uygongco company has brought upon them these last two years or so. Apparently, La Filipina Uygongco Corp. must have felt it was immune from public criticism now that they have the permit to operate the port.

That’s a wrong way of viewing the situation. The residents may have kept quiet for a while. But their suffering must have reached breaking point, and with the leadership of former Punong Barangay Ernie Poral, they filed a formal complaint before the City Council regarding the noise and road vibration during hauling operations. The issues raised are valid, and the City Council decided to convene as a Committee of the Whole to hear the complaint.

Several points were unearthed during the hearing on Thursday, July 12, 2018:

  • The company’s application for a Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) has as yet been approved. This is the legal instrument that would grant La Filipina Uygongco Corp. authority to utilize the 8,447 sqm. covered by its application and build a private port. Now it’s clearly of the cart before the horse. The port is finished and operating while the MLA application is still pending.
  • The PPA had issued a certificate of registration and temporary permit to operate to La Filipina Uygongco Corp. on January 14, 2017. But the port began operations in 2016, according to its own executives who attended the hearing. The company representatives claimed the PPA issued a provisionary permit to operate. They failed to present it during the hearing.
  • Company executive Francis de la Cruz insisted that the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) had given them a passing grade on the noise level in the area. He also said he has slept in the vicinity and didn’t experience sleepless nights. When asked exactly where had he slept, de la Cruz answered that it was inside the port complex itself, and not in the barangay where heavy trucks rumbled through the night.
  • A DENR official said just recently, Secretary Roy Cimatu had issued a policy that nobody will be allowed to enter an area subject of an MLA application until such time that it is approved. The company insisted that it was already given provisional authority to enter and develop their port.
  • And most important of all, this project obtained the requirements for the construction and operation WITHOUT PUBLIC CONSULTATION. This is a requirement enshrined in our laws. Just on that basis, I think Secretary Roy Cimatu of DENR should disapprove the MLA application and for the PPA to rescind the permit to operate. The PPA should then take over the operations of the private port. La Filipina Uygongco knew the risks of proceeding without fulfilling the requirements, especially the public consultatoin. It will have to pay for its gamble.

The City Council must take the first step of asserting the rule of law and protecting the welfare of its constituents. I would urge its members to withdraw the endorsement given to the project four years ago which was obtained through political strong-arm tactics. As concession, La Filipina Uygongco can be given preferential rights for docking, but the PPA should run it, and allow other foreign vessels chartered by other companies to dock there.

 

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Uygongco’s private port

It was only two weeks ago that I discovered there’s a private port now operating offshore of Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City. I was talking with Atty. Eduardo Jalbuna, who is the lawyer for cement and hotel entrepreneur Boy So (of the La Carmela de Boracay fame), about the congestion at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex in Barangay Loboc.

This congestion was made apparent during a trip by pumpboat to Buenavista, Guimaras recently. I saw three or four foreign vessels laying at anchor on the Guimaras Strait. I have heard about importers hurting badly from the demurrage they have to pay to owners of chartered vessels for delays in unloading their cargo. Owners of chartered vessels also don’t like making Iloilo a port of call because their schedules are turned topsy-turvy.

Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

Definitely such a situation does not augur well for Iloilo City, especially as it now positions itself as the new hub for trade and commerce in Central Philippines. And the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is fully aware of this handicap of the ICPC being inadequate for the city’s growing needs for shipping. If Iloilo City wants to become a major player for the export market, its port facilities should be upgraded to accommodated more and bigger ships.

As far back as 20 years ago, I have heard PPA talk about building a longer berthing pier and reclaiming land for cargo handling at the ICPC. But it’s obvious its efforts to achieve that goal has fallen behind the growth of cargo ship traffic. The number of vessels laying at anchor and charging demurrage to importers is enough proof of that. That failure directly affects the ability of the city to fulfill its potential. It cannot grow fast enough without bigger and better port facilities.

ships at anchor off iloilo port

Foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for berthing space to be vacated at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex. Each day that these ships wait at anchor cost shippers demurrage charges of $2,500 per day of delay.

Hence, the construction of this private port by La Filipina Uygongco is detrimental to the interest of Iloilo City’s economy. What is objectionable isn’t the fact that the flour maker built its own port; it has every right to do that. But building it in the expansion area for the ICPC is what makes it wrong. The private port is sitting right on where the expansion of the ICPC should be.

The PPA has a lot of explaining to do on this issue. My sources told me that Uygongco has long attempted to get a certificate of no objection from PPA, but was always turned down. Then, in 2014, somebody so powerful in the Aquino administration twisted arms at the PPA to force its top management to drop its objection to the private port. It’s that simple. A powerful politician who claims he wants Iloilo City to grow and prosper is also the same person who thwarted it.

I have asked the DENR to provide me with a copy of the Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) that would give it authority to build the private port in the foreshore area. My sources told me the MLA application is still pending approval. If this is true, then why did the Uygongco flour company just go ahead and build the private port? That’s putting the horse ahead of the cart. And that would put PPA officials involved in the grant of a permit to operate (temporary) in deep, deep trouble.