Why did PNoy change his mind on Acosta?
By SYLVIA L. MAYUGA
“No forests, no watershed; no watershed, no water; no water, no rice; no rice, no economy.” Neric Acosta’s summary of danger in the Philippine environment drew the crowds on the campaign trail with Noynoy Aquino.
They sensed the urgency with which this three-term congressman of Bukidnon’s lone district had authored interconnected laws to reverse the danger – the Clean Air Act of 1999, the Solid Waste Management Act of 2001, the Clean Water Act of 2004, and laws protecting biodiversity, caves, coastal resources, protected areas, and plant variety protection.
Acosta lost his Senate bid despite six million votes, leaving Aquino’s words to him in the campaign homestretch: “Kahit anong mangyari, makakatulong ka sa environment.” Many agreed that there could be no better DENR secretary than Neric Acosta on Aquino’s Daang Matuwid.
Media was already referring to him as the DENR secretary when the one-year waiting period for losing candidates elapsed in mid-May. But instead of his anticipated appointment came a jolt: Aquino held off on appointing Acosta in the face of a well-funded campaign against him. Led off by a privilege speech by Miguel Zubiri of the questionable Senate victory in 2007, it went on to an open letter to the President in full-page ads in major broadsheets, suggesting an ongoing Sandiganbayan case against Acosta and his family as an impediment to his appointment. Acosta replied swiftly, “They must be afraid of the clean-up I
Columnist Winnie Monsod chimed in: “Who would think that keeping Acosta out of the DENR was important enough to shell out some P180,000 for an ad? A partial list: his political enemies—i.e. the Zubiris of Bukidnon and their allies, who want to deny Acosta any opportunity to shine. There are those who want to keep the status quo—the incumbent is affiliated with the Iglesia ni Cristo whose power to capture and retain plum appointments is legendary.
“And there are those who look at the DENR as a potential cash cow (permits, licenses, certifications, etc.) or think they can get what they want from the present dispensation, whose activities may be drastically impaired with Acosta there because he is anything but corrupt…Well, it seems that have been successful. And the country has lost. Again.”
That “incumbent” Monsod refers to is Ramon Paje. “Anything but corrupt” does not seem to hang as well on him. Says an ex-DENR official who requested anonymity: “As Secretary Lito Atienza’s right hand, Paje is known to have made P5M as part of the company payroll in exchange for an ECC for a golf course. There, too, was an applicant for a mining permit who complained to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau that Paje asked him for P25 M. But Paje is both sipsip and smart. He was careful not to leave a paper trail.”
Such allegations echo in blogs and news reports. Here’s an echo of Paje’s way with Environmental Compliance Certificates and Timber Licensing Agreements.
Another report assesses Paje’s DENR Administrative Order No. 2011-01, “Strengthening the Manila Bay Coordinating Office” last January. Says the national chair of the fisherfolk NGO Pamalakaya, Fernando Hicap: “Secretary Ramon Paje can deny this to high heaven. But we are totally convinced that this fresh escapade of the DENR for Manila Bay clean-up has something to do with the P100 billion climate change and clean-up fund forwarded by the Arroyo administration to the financial oligarchs of World Bank in 2008.”
Why PNoy chose a man with a shadowy record over a proven ally in Daang Matuwid remains a question, but here’s Neric Acosta to shed some light on the rest of the picture:
Q. What did the President tell you about his decision not to appoint you DENR secretary?
A. “You will be so distracted by your enemies that it will be difficult to run the bureaucracy. Maraming buwaya.”
Q. Could other less friendly considerations be behind the President’s decision? Looks like the loggers and miners are getting their way.
A.Let’s put it this way. The old prism for looking at the environment looks at natural resources merely as goods to be utilized and exploited. The new prism sees ecology as land, soil, water and air in the service of life.
What I want to know is whether government is moving away from what should be seen as the primary wealth of the country – ecological resources valued for themselves, not as as mere commodities.
Q. How do you read PNoy’s understanding of the planetary environmental crisis?
A. I think it’s still on the conceptual plane. He has yet to fully internalize it, the real urgency of it.
Q. What is your own understanding of the extent of this crisis in our country?
We have about 3% of our original forest cover left. These last wild areas are the heart and lungs of the country with nearly all of our remaining endemic species, nearly all of which are teetering on the edge of extinction. As I said in the campaign: No forest, no watershed; no watershed, no water; no water, no rice, no economy.
Q. What is the most urgent task facing government in this life-and-death situation?
We have to do aerial mapping to identify all those valuable remaining forested areas presently outside the protected area system that will fall under immediate protection through legislation and involvement in a national initiative. Then we need to identify what areas of agricultural land we have and what land could, and should be converted into food production.
Through this mapping process we need to develop a National Food Security Initiative whereby agricultural land will be protected by law from conversion to residential or other development.
Q. Aren’t there existing mapping projects?
A. Yes, but it’s all partial. There’s no inter-agency collaboration. Without that, mapping doesn’t cut across the whole picture. How can we monitor what we do not map? How can we manage what do not measure?
Q. You’re calling for an integration of government perspectives in the 11th hour. How do you see PNoy’s offer to appoint you Presidential Adviser on the Environment instead?
A. There are two possible tracks for such a position. First, enforcement of all existing LAWS on land, air, water and solid waste management from the Office of the President, superseding all agencies.
Second, an oversight function on inter-agency policies rooted in the values of conservation. This involves national consciousness-raising.
Q.How do you see that rippling in the lives of ordinary Pinoys?
A. We can begin with this space and vehicle to help change a national consciousness — and move from there to increase our spheres of inspiration and action. – Newsbreak
TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Nereus "Neric" Acosta