Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, April 16, 2001

Dolphin Dilemma

Dolphin Dilemma
An ocean adventure park that not only wants to exhibit dolphins but allow paying customers to swim with them, is in hot water with the Philippines government.

Last month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a cease and desist order against Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. It is alleged the developer did not receive an environmental clearance certificate to build the park, which plans to feature dolphins, false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) and fur seals (Otaria byronia). The company responded by threatening to sue the DENR. It says it obtained an environmental clearance certificate and an environmental impact statement from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. A U.S. military base until 1992, Subic Bay, just north of Manila, is now a thriving economic zone with a mix of industrial areas and protected areas administered by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). As part of its vision to develop nature parks while protecting the port's natural resources, the SBMA gave its blessing to a development variously described as a biotheme park, an exploratorium and an ocean adventure park. Construction of the park began earlier this year at the Camayan wharf, located within the freeport's protected area. The developer, Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, headed by American Tim Desmond and his U.S. based company Active Environments, planned to open the park this summer. In an interview with the Manila Bulletin in February, Desmond explained the project would bring leading animal behavior scientists and zoologists to work with their Filipino counterparts. They would create a working biopark model "and become the toast of zoological societies all over the world," said Desmond. In the same Manila Bulletin article, SBMA chairman Felicito Payumo elaborated on the park's "edutainment" plans. Dolphins meet swimmers almost daily at Monkey Mia. "The exploratorium will not only be featuring entertaining dolphin or sea lion shows, but at the same time provide interaction between man and these animals," said Payumo. "This is one way of reaching out to Filipinos, to expose them to marine life so that they will see the value of preserving the country's biodiversity." Animal welfare organizations did not see the swim with dolphins plan in an educational light. "Swim with the dolphins programs add an increased element of exploitation without adding any perceivable additional educational benefits," wrote the Humane Society of the United States. "In fact, swim with dolphins programs mis-educate the public to believe that dolphins desire our company as much as we desire theirs." The plan will "destroy the complex social structure of the bottlenose dolphin and their only escape is death," wrote the 80,000 member Organization for the Protection of Animals. "It has been well documented in our facilities that the dolphins do not fare well in captivity," wrote San Diego Animal Advocates. "It would be distressing to see Mr. Desmond profit from the exploitation of your ocean treasures." "Mr. Desmond’s plan is not only severely threatening to the dolphin population, it also represents one more example of a U.S. citizen profiting from the exploitation of a Philippine resource," wrote the 65,000 member In Defense of Animals group. "Rather than confining dolphins to a holding facility, you can offer your citizens and visiting guests the opportunity to observe dolphins in their natural environment through boat tours and other outdoor activities," suggested the Doris Day Animal League. On receiving these and other letters, the DENR responded. "Based on the letters that we have been receiving, there is too much opposition against the project," said DENR officer in charge Joemari Gerochi. Gerochi ordered DENR's legal department to investigate whether Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium had broken environmental and wildlife laws. Mundita Lim, assistant director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, reported back that park construction was under way without the necessary environmental impact assessment and environmental impact statement. "This was supposed to have been undertaken by the Subic Bay Ecology Center of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, but repeated requests for copies by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Marine Mammal Conservation through Mr. Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan were unanswered," said Mundita. The Inter-Agency Task Force is dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals in the Philippines, and advises on policies regarding marine mammal conservation. Lim's investigation also alleged that marine specimens were imported, transported and collected without permits, and issues on animal welfare had been left unanswered. Last week, in a report to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the DENR stated only it had the authority to issue environmental clearance certificates (ECCs) or to approve environmental impact statements in such cases. "The department ascertains its authority over activities that significantly affect the environment, particularly in the processing and issuance of ECCs for all environmentally critical areas," said DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez

Sunday, April 15, 2001

Subic prevents environment department from inspecting dolphin show

Guards prohibited an inspection team of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from entering the Ocean Adventure inside the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Ecozone in this town.

Led by Mylene Rivera of the Environmental Impact Assessment Division of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Region 3, the inspection team intended to investigate Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium's (SBME) compliance with a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued on March 17, 2001 for their
Captive Facility for Marine Mammals Project.

In an earlier investigation conducted by the EMB Region 3 on December 15, 2000, it confirmed that construction of the project was already in progress without an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) as required by Section 4 of the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System (Presidential Decree 1586). The proponent was ordered to stop construction and operation and fined P 50,000 (US $1,000) until they are awarded an ECC.

Ocean Adventure guards refused the inspection team entry because they were told to refer the DENR to the Legal Department of SBMA upon arrival. "You have to get clearance from the legal office, ma'am," explained one of the guards.
"Why can't you allow us to go in? The public can enter but DENR cannot?," inquired Rivera. The guards could only say that they were only following orders.

The inspection team proceeded to the Ecology Center of SBMA to ask why they were refused entry. They were then referred to Atty. Arlyn Pangan of the Legal Department of SBMA but when they arrived in her office, she had already left.
Criselda Roxas, from SBMA Media Relations, warned us that "the media could not come without an appointment." The media arrived in the lobby of the administration building to interview the Legal Department about the project.

Finally, Atty. Francisco Abella received the inspection team and the media. Rivera immediately explained the incident at Ocean Adventure. Before she could finish, Abella already interrupted her. "You know, the basic issue here is jurisdiction. They already have an ECC issued by SBMA," he said.

SBME does not recognize the Notice of Violation issued by EMB Region 3 on January 5, 2001 and the CDO because the SBMA granted the project an ECC on November 29, 2000. "Ocean Adventure will cease and desist its operation only at the order of SBMA and only if all other ECCs issued by the SBMA to other locators within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone are held invalid," said SBME in their official statement.
Rivera asserted, however, that SBMA had no authority to issue ECCs because it is not clearly stated in Republic Act 7227 (Bases Conversion Act). Aside from this, she also mentioned that Administrative Order 300 of Malacañang signed by former President Fidel Ramos on November 4, 1996 confirmed that authority to issue ECCs resides only in the DENR and its Regional Executive Directors.

SBME's official statement also referred to RA 7227 that projects within the SBMA "shall not be restrained or enjoined except by order issued by the Supreme Court of the Philippines."
Rivera was unfazed by neither that nor Abella. "What is important to me is that the Secretary directed me to see whether they were complying with the CDO," she asserted. Asking for clearance from Abella, she heard this from him, "we don’t have authority for that." He further said, "the owner should give you the permit."

As Rivera pleaded again for clearance, Abella shouted. "Puta! Empleyado lang tayo dito," he exclaimed, "baka madisgrasya ako s’enyo." (Whore! I'm only an employee here. I might get in trouble because of you.)

Earth Island Institute’s Trixie Concepcion then asked Abella if the project had registered with the Committee on Animal Welfare of the Bureau of Animal Industry in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act 8485). "I don't know about that," replied Abella.

SBME has also threatened to sue the DENR if it pursues the enforcement of the CDO. The company demanded the withdrawal and nullification of the CDO. "If the DENR persists...[we] will pursue all legal avenues of redress including...filing charges under the Anti-Graft and Corruption Law against DENR Region 3, EMB, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau and the Interagency Task Force on Marine Mammals for harassment and, for DENR in particular, issuance of an illegal order," warned Timothy Desmond, SBME’s Chief Executive Officer.

Desmond also told the Inquirer on March 26,2001 that: "We're not looking for a fight. We're not starting a war. We’re asking the DENR to withdraw an order that was issued in violation of the law and without giving us due process."
"How can it be the there was not due process? We issued a Notice of Violation. We met with them on February 14, 2001. We also issued a CDO," explained Rivera.
Green groups pressured the DENR to issue the long due CDO against the project. On March 9, 2001, EMB Director Peter Anthony Abaya clarified that, "we are ready to issue the CDO but we cannot." When asked why, he told BK that, "the Undersecretary [Roseller dela Peña] is discussing a Memorandum of Agreement with the management of SBMA."

Conservationists and animal rights groups criticized the project for violating animal rights and conservation principles. Together with the Earth Island Institute also in opposition were the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, Philippine Society for the Protection of Animals, Tanggol Kalikasan, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, Center for Environmental Concerns, World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines, Haribon Foundation, Earthwatch Philippines and Mr. Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan of Bookmark.

The project which features 5 false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) and 8 South American sea lions (Otaria byronia) is still operating. Ocean Adventure charges an entrance fee of P 400 (US $ 8) and P 2,800 (US $ 56) for the swim-with-the dolphin tour


Saturday, April 07, 2001

Controversial dolphin show

DENR poised to stop controversial dolphin show The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has effectively pulled the plug on the dolphin show at Subic Bay Freeport when it declared this month it was the only agency qualified to issue Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECC).

The Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium (SBME), set to open this month in Subic Bay, Philippines, is in the center of a heated debate over the use of dolphins and whales for public display and entertainment


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