by Elpidio V. Peria
15 January 2012
Perhaps most, if not all, Filipinos tomorrow will tune in to their radio or TV sets to watch again another “palabas”, a historic one at that, similar to what we have all collectively experienced during Erap’s impeachment trial, which this time will be about Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.
This trial, which will happen at the Philippine Senate, actually coincides with the resumption of session of the Philippine Congress (which is a bicameral body composed of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives) which had its Christmas break from December 17, 2011 to January 15, 2012.
In this resumption of session tomorrow, January 16, Congress will be in session until March 23, after which it will have another break, then another resumption of session happens on May 7 until June 7, 2012 where it will then have its sine die adjournment. This sine die adjournment is when Congress literally stops the clock in its session, it will actually continue discussions of whatever pending bill may happen to be unresolved at that time until the body decides what to do with it. But the session ends on that day, and that is what will be indicated in the Journal or records of either the Senate or House of Representatives on that day.
The point of this foray on the legislative calendar is that there is only very few time left for the Philippine Congress to act on other pending matters, which also needs their serious attention.
Foremost on our minds reeling as we are from “Sendong” are two legislative measures that should set things straight in the way we deal with how we locate settlements in hazard-prone areas and the other measure provides the means for the affected regions and those vulnerable to be prepared.
The first of these pending measures, which dates back from several Congressional sessions is the proposed bill even mentioned by Pnoy on his first SONA, the LAND and WATER USE Act which puts a more organized scheme to resolve land use disputes from the differing priorities of local government units, government agencies, indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain claims, investors’ rights in whatever land use instrument they may have secured from government agencies, and the like. With our recent experience of Sendong and the landslide in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, this proposed measure should also deal with where and how to locate these kinds of settlements so that tragedies like these will not happen again.
The second measure that needs more focus and attention is the Peoples’ Survival Fund already approved on 3rd reading in the Senate and is currently pending in the House of Representatives.
This bill provides a pot of money in our national budget, managed by a Board, precisely to provide for funds for disaster-hit provinces and areas to recover, and those not hit yet, to prepare, including to set up facilities, infrastructure and training, dealing with adaptation to the onset of impacts of climate change. This pot can be replenished, not only from the road users’ tax and other funding sources in our budget, but will also be able to receive and accept funds from external sources, such as those facilitated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
It is incumbent upon Speaker Belmonte, whether he may appear in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona or not, to be mindful in scheduling plenary debates on this measure in the floor of the House, which has already undergone some technical working group (TWG) meetings at the Committee level in the House of Representatives, even if the attention of the entire nation will be focused on how the House prosecutors will acquit themselves in their performance during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona.
From the standpoint of biodiversity concerns, there should also be action on whether the Philippines should start the process of ratifying the so-called Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (this is an international instrument arising from the Convention on Biological Diversity, dealing with how we may stop biopiracy from occurring not only in our borders, but also from those genetic resources that are utilized in other countries without the proper authorization from Philippine authorities), or the Nagoya-Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress (this addresses how people harmed by genetically-modified organisms may seek redress and compensation from such damage) but very few people know whether this issue should be a priority concern.
Then there’s the recent denial of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. on their $5.9B mining operation in Tampakan Municipality in South Cotabato Province,which the company will appeal.
To deal with this, perhaps groups opposing the appeal or the DENR should ramp up their studies on the economic valuation of the ecosystem services or functions provided by the entire natural ecosystem of Tampakan town and compare it with the supposed income from the mining activity.
This should illustrate that as compared to the mining activity, the value of the ecosystem services in the area is way much greater than what can be earned from the mineral resources, which will all be depleted and used up in the long run.
There are other issues that need not be sidelined by the CJ Corona impeachment trial, but from the concerns of BITS Policy Center, these are some issues that should not be forgotten but be acted upon, even as we watch a historic political spectacle unfold before our eyes.