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Is Nacaya left holding the bag?

Bencyrus Ellorin .

CITY Council majority floor leader Ian Mark Nacaya has brought in the idea of payment for ecological services or PES.

The idea of PES came from some groups, especially after “Sendong” left a trail of death and destruction in 2011, and exposed the obvious: the city, with high-flood risks, has no more natural protection as its watersheds have been logged bald.

PES is a market-oriented concept that posits environmental services are not free. It seeks to raise payment from users of water, for example, to communities who nurture watershed forest and those who are active in rehabilitating denuded forests.

The Cagayan de Oro River Basin Council headed by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma has lobbied with the City Hall for the enactment of a PES ordinance where water users are made to pay environmental service fees for the water they use. This is over the rate pegged by the water utility, Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD), as price of water as a commodity.

Councilor Nacaya has opened public consultations on the proposed ordinance which seeks to levy an additional 25 centavos per cubic meter on COWD consumers.

The COWD, under the proposed ordinance, would be the fund collector. The PES Fund will be put in a trust fund to be managed by the City Hall which would constitute a PES Board. The PES board is mandated to ensure the fund is used as payment to communities in the Cagayan de Oro watershed, an incentive to their forest nurturing and protection.

Nacaya now is in an unenviable position of proposing the PES ordinance to raise funds to protect and rehabilitate our watersheds. Like any other measure that entails collection of fees, public opposition is expected. Further aggravating Nacaya’s situation is that the election is around the corner.

I however praise the councilor for his courage in pushing for this important piece of legislation now.

Not all is cast in stone though. Public hearings are ongoing. I commend a lawyer identified with the local opposition for submitting a formal position paper to oppose the measure, former city legal officer Atty. Mart Maandig.

People almost always agree on environmental issues. But when the proposition turns to who foots the bill, many say no. But do we really have a choice?

Most forest projects are funded by debt like the WB-ENR Secal Loan in the 1990s. That loan was supposed to reforest the city’s watersheds. As a foreign, debt, Filipino taxpayers are paying for these loans.

Similarly, if you ask people if they support renewable energy, all may say yes. But when asked if they are willing to pay an extra fee to fund renewable energy project through the fed-in tariff system, most would cry no to the heavens. Inconsistent, right?

There are chatters of opposition to the proposed PES ordinance in social media, many from individuals and groups who cried over the aggravated impact of “Sendong” because of the rape of our watershed forests, and many from groups that shouted that the watersheds should be protected and rehabilitated.

I enjoin them to attend the public consultations to be heard and not just content themselves as keyboard warriors.

I know you are being heard in social media. But social media for all its glorification still has its limits. You guys, keyboard warriors, are still the best bearers of your ideas, in person, live.

Even in developed countries, social media remain a platform of information sharing. But decisions are still made through direct social interaction.  Most successful social media campaigns are those that mobilize people out of their computers or smartphones to attend to town hall meetings or getting involved live.

Bring your bodies to the town hall, please.

 

(The author is a former journalist with experience in managing and editing online news portals here and abroad. He is now a public relations consultant and political campaigner. One of the social media groups he co-administered was a finalist in Globe’s Tatt award in 2012.)

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