Paje hurdles CA committee

by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 10 2014 03:04 PM | Updated as of Jun 10 2014 11:05 PM

MANILA – Environment Secretary Ramon Paje finally hurdled the committee level of the Commission on Appointments and only needs the formal approval of the en banc at its plenary session for his appointment to be confirmed.

After seven hearings, the CA's committee on environment and natural resources voted to recommend Paje’s confirmation.

This was after Paje was subjected to intense questioning from Senator Serge Osmeña III on a wide range of environmental issues, including mining operations of DMCI Holdings in Zambales and details of the national greening program.

Osmeña questioned why DMCI Holdings Inc. continued to operate a causeway port in Barangay Bolitoc, Zambales when its temporary permit expired in 2009 and was not renewed, effectively rendering its environmental compliance certificate (ECC) expired.

Osmeña accused Paje of "barefacedly lying" to the committee when the secretary maintained that DMCI had an ECC.

“Is the DENR going to do something rather than allowing them to operate illegally? There’s no ECC, no permit but it’s okay. What have you done about this? …This is shameful,” Osmeña asked Paje.

“The DENR maintains that the ECC is valid. They have not cancelled it. The PPA recognized the occupancy,” Paje answered, saying that the Philippine Ports Authority gave DMCI the right to operate until 2017.

Osmeña found the reply unacceptable, citing a letter of a DENR regional director that says no foreshore lease agreement was signed between the DENR and DMCI and no foreshore lease permit was issued.

Paje said the application for a permit is still pending but the DENR could not issue one since the matter is being contested. Meantime, Paje maintained that DMCI has an ECC.

“That is amazing because by virtue of another letter with regard to the environmental compliance certificate, this is very clear, ‘The certificate shall exist for a period of 25 years upon its issuance or upon the termination of the foreshore lease agreement whichever comes first.’ So you’re lying. I’m accusing you of barefacedly lying to the members of the committee,” Osmeña said.

Still dissatisfied with Paje’s answers, Osmeña relented and allowed his colleagues to vote in favor of Paje’s confirmation.

His appointment is up for consideration in the CA plenary on Wednesday, along with that of Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is expected to appear again before the CA’s justice committee for the continuation of her confirmation hearing.