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Features

Tuesday, 29 February 2000
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A reversal of fate:

Ilog Palico watchers accused
of polluting the river

By Gina Mission
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Saving a river: When will the pollution stop?

In a reversal of fate, Consolidated Distillers of the Far East, Inc., a respondent of the case, In the Matter of the Water Pollution Case, is now pointing an accusing finger to the complainants. In a January 3 manifestation, the counsel of the company alleged that the complainants, composed of local fisher folk and their lawyer, Dominique Misa, staged a fish kill on the Palico River located in Nasugbu, Batangas, on December 7, 1999, purposely to "cause disrepute, dishonor and to besmirch the good name and reputation" of the company.

...Singling out Misa, the manifestation further reads: "The fact is that the representation of Atty. Dominique Misa in the case is a complete anomaly because while she profess(es) her alleged fervid drive to prevent alleged pollution of the Palico River, she is at the same time actually engaged in the surreptitious pollution of the same Palico River."

...Such "anomaly," according to respondent’s counsel, E.B. Maquinto, has not only caused "injustice" upon the respondent but also made a "mockery" of the proceedings of the case. Thus, Misa and her group, read the manifestation, "should be cited in contempt" of the office of the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)

...How the fisher folk, or their lawyer--despite a five-year history of fighting to save the Palico--could possibly do such an act, is an accusation that deserves closer scrutiny.

The charge

...On December 8, 1999, fisher folk reported to Misa that a fish kill had again happened. At that time, Misa was at her family’s beach house in Bucana, a barrio near the Palico River. Along with some members of the Pawikan Task Force of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, an office under the DENR, Misa "fixed" the dead fish with formalin, obviously to preserve them, hoping to use them as additional evidence in the water pollution case.

...Eight pieces of fish, she recalled, could not fit into the bottles, so she instructed her help to throw them back to the river. When the help reached the riverbank to throw the dead fish, he saw several people, which Misa later learned to be employees of Absolute Chemicals, Consolidated Distillers, and DENR representative from Batangas.

...Taciana Sigres, the DENR representative, verbally reported to her boss, Carlos Gubat, that "no dead fish was found along Palico River." "They, however, witnessed a man together with Atty. Misa throw a bucket of dead fish into Palico River.When confronted, they alleged that the dead fish were excess of the samples they had earlier taken," Gubat in turn reported to his superiors.

...The lawyer of Consolidated Distillers of the Far East, Inc., used Sigres’ report as the sole basis for filing the Motion to Cite the Complainants (the fisher folk) and Atty. Dominique Misa in Contempt.

1994 fish kill

...Residents along the river recall a tragic fish kill in September 1994, which badly hit them. Since then, the fish catch has dwindled. Even Nasugbu Bay, once a fertile fishing ground, was adversely affected. Residents blamed industrial pollutants for the fish kill.

...The tragedy prompted the filing of separate complaints by Nasugbu residents, through Misa, against Dyzum Distillers, Inc., Consolidated Distillers of the Far East, Inc., Absolute Chemicals, and the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro (CADP), four industrial plants located near the river.

...Misa attributed the fish kill to the leniency with which the PAB treats the companies. Dyzum Distillers, she said, has operated without the proper treatment facility since 1976. CADP has been operating since before World War II but installed a treatment facility only recently. Consolidated Distillers, which started operation in 1982, has reportedly been allowed to discharge water pollutants into the river.

...Palico River discharges into Nasugbu Bay, and whatever pollutant it carries is passed into the sea.

...After conducting investigations, the Batangas office of the PAB consequently issued cease-and-desist orders to all four establishments, but up to now, all of them are still being allowed to operate, on the condition–and their promise–not to discharge their effluents into the river anymore. Fisher folk from barangays San Diego and Bucana maintain, however, that these companies continue to discharge water pollutants into the Palico River.

Wrong category

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One for Ripley's: The accusers have become the accused.

...Misa noted that despite Presidential Proclamation 1801, which declares the entire coastline of Batangas a marine reserve, the Palico River is wrongfully classified as "Class C," the type intended only for bathing, propagation of fish, and industrial water supply. Had the river been properly classified, no industry would have been allowed to discharge even treated waste and its sewage, she said.

...Upon Misa’s request, the PAB directed the DENR in Batangas to create a multi-sectoral team, which will monitor the quality of the discharge from the four establishments.

...The lawyer also approached Environment Secretary Antonio Cerilles and then-Nasugbu Mayor Rosario Apacible, for support. Up to now, Cerilles has not acted on her request. Apacible, in her unofficial reply, said that the companies were not "pollutants," contrary to what Misa told her, because they all had been issued environment compliance certificates (ECC).

...But these are just two of the setbacks suffered by their campaign to save the Palico River.

...There are several others. For example, their 1995 complaint addressed to the Office of the DENR secretary, "could not be found" in the office of the undersecretary of environment, to which it was supposedly endorsed. Thus, Misa had to file the same complaint again with Cerilles.

...The motion for reconsideration on the classification of the river from Class C to a protected one has not been acted upon since 1995. Their plea for access to information, particularly on the plans and specifications of waste management treatment facilities and monitoring reports of the region, was denied on the ground that these records are "confidential."

...Other than the construction of spur dikes--which were destroyed in a 1996 typhoon– not one government office has done something to save Palico. A task force created to investigate the four companies has yet to carry out the resolution it approved concerning the pollution.

`Ultimate irony’

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Palico River: Whatever it carries is emptied into Nasugbu Bay.

...Knowing fully well the way government works, and realizing the kind of industrial operators they are up against, Nasugbu fisherfolk and their lawyer had developed a high tolerance level for inefficiency and partiality. But for them to be charged as "polluters" of the very same river they’ve devoted so much effort to save, is for them, according to fisherman Isabelo Alicaya, the "ultimate irony."

...The fisher folk are not even asking sympathy from the Pollution Adjudication Board. All they ask is for the board to be impartial. Alicaya is confident that, with an impartial handling of the case, they have all the chances to win.