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Manila council favors firms

Vol. XXII, No. 201 [ BusinessWorld Online ]

Friday, May 15, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Directive allows Pandacan depot, medium and heavy industries to stay

AN ORDINANCE allowing medium and heavy industries, including a major oil depot, to stay and continue operating in Manila was approved yesterday by the city council.

It reverses directives issued by previous city officials and affected businesses — which had earlier warned of the loss of local livelihoods and threatened a pullout from the Philippines — welcomed the development.

The vote was not unanimous and Ordinance 7177, the city’s new Comprehensive Land Use and Zoning Plan, can still be vetoed by Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim.

His predecessor who had pushed for the revoked ordinances, current Environment Secretary Jose L. Atienza, criticized the council for disregarding the health and safety of its constituents.

But his colleague at the Energy department, Angelo T. Reyes, said the move — primarily aimed at keeping the Pandacan oil depot open — had averted a possible fuel supply crisis.

Twenty councilors out of the 35 present in yesterday’s session voted in favor of Ordinance 7177. The directive’s principal author, councilor Arlene W. Koa, said this meant "the oil firms occupying the depot in Pandacan and all the other medium and heavy industries no longer have to go and can continue their operations."

Superseded were Ordinance 8027, which was passed in 2001 and reclassified Pandacan and Sta. Ana as a commercial instead of an industrial area, and 2006’s Ordinance 8119 which gave medium and heavy industries seven years to vacate the city.

Ordinance 8027, issued in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks in the United States, had ordered the country’s three biggest oil firms — Pilipinas Shell, Chevron Philippines Inc. (formerly Caltex Philippines) and Petron Corporation — to vacate the oil depot.

Negotiations with the administration of then-Mayor Atienza resulted in a stay but a cause-oriented group then filed a case at the Supreme Court questioning why the law was not being implemented.

Last year the high court upheld the city’s right to determine land use policy and ordered the oil firms to submit relocation plans. An appeal was filed and was denied last week.

The Supreme Court, however, said its decision did not preclude new ordinances being issued by the Manila city council.

Ms. Koa said the high court ruling would not affect the new ordinance, which she claimed would benefit constituents given the economic crisis.

"The ordinance would provide employment... and local taxes for the city which can be used to serve the needs of the people", she said.

But councilor Lourdes Isip-Garcia, author of Ordinance 8119, said the new directive had been "railroaded" and that the council had ignored the wisdom of the Supreme Court.

"The forced enactment of this dubious ordinance must be questioned and hopefully reversed. We cannot compromise the lives of our fellow ManileƱos," she said in a statement.

The Environment department’s Mr. Atienza, in a telephone interview, said the council was "welcoming the most polluting and hazardous firms in the city... The oil depot and other affected industries should have been relocated to more appropriate areas."

His department, he warned, would be reviewing the environmental compliance certificates issued to concerned firms.

Majority Floor Leader Ma. Sheilah Lacuna-Pangan, meanwhile, said Mr. Lim’s approval would make the ordinance a law.

Mr. Lim, who had earlier said he would veto the ordinance if it contravened the Supreme Court decision of the Supreme Court, was not available for comment yesterday.

Ms. Pangan said a mayor’s veto could be overturned through a two-thirds vote of the council.

The Energy department’s Mr. Reyes, meanwhile, said "We don’t want a crisis in supply and prices. Now the decision of the city council, I would like to suggest and surmise, is also based on that desire."

"Even the Supreme Court, when it handed the decision, said that this ... is not made to provoke any crisis, they do not want that and nobody wants that," he said.

"My concern only is that we are assured of secured supply of petroleum products, particularly in Metro Manila. We don’t want any disruption of that and we don’t want any undesirable price behavior as a result of any moves in location — that’s my only concern."

Chevron spokesman Mark C. Quebral said the firm was "grateful for the passing of the ordinance, but still, we are cautiously optimistic because the mayor... may still veto it."

"So right now, we are still actively looking for relocation sites," he said.

"This is a welcome development but we need to see the ordinance first," said Rafael Ledesma, Petron public affairs officer, in a text message.

Ramon Gil S. Macapagal, vice-president of Unilever Philippines which had threatened to pull out of the country, said in another text message: "We hope the mayor will approve."

"We commit of course to continue supporting dialogue that is necessary to help address issues where Unilever can be of help and add value." — with a report from Jose Bimbo F. Santos


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