Environment Secretary Paje gets CA nod

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Ramon Paje on Tuesday finally got the nod of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) despite strong opposition from Senator Sergio Osmeña III.

Osmeña admitted that those opposing the confirmation of Paje were overruled by members of the House of Representatives who already wanted to recommend Paje's confirmation.

"Outvoted na ako ng members ng House of Representatives. There were a lot of contradictions. But you know, it's already the end of sessions here and the congressmen wanted to vote on it, and I didn't get a single vote. Para akong lone ranger," he said after the confirmation hearing.

For his part, Paje expressed gratitude to those who voted for him. He said he is happy to finally secure CA committee approval after four years of being bypassed and re-appointed by the Chief Executive.

Paje admitted that the line of questioning thrown against him was focused not on competency. However, he said that the CA has all the right to make the evaluation and decide for the confirmation.

"We call it democracy and we respect the system," said Paje.

During the hearing, Osmeña lost his temper several times while he was questioning Paje over a DMCI project in Bolitoc, Sta Cruz in Zambales.

He admitted that he is very disappointed but at the same time helpless to block the confirmation of Paje.

"Yes, I am disappointed. Wala akong magagawa. They (members of the House) want to vote on it, and I don't want to block the right to vote," Osmeña said.

He also called Paje a liar when the Environment Secretary insisted that the DMCI still has a valid environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to operate in the foreshore area.

Osmeña said it is clearly stated in the provision permit issued to DMCI that the permit given to them expired on January 27, 2009.

"At maliwanag na walang renewal na nangyari but the company is still operating but the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) is not doing anything to stop them," Osmeña said.

"There's no ECC (environmental compliance certificate), there's no permit but it's ok. What have you done about this?" Osmeña asked Paje.

Paje, for his part, said it was the operator who claimed that their ECC was still valid and that the Philippine Port Authority (PPA) recognizes its "occupancy."

"You always seem to lean over backwards in favor of the operator," Osmeña said.

When asked to comment, Osmeña said he is not satisfied with the answers given by Paje.

"There are many issues. And it’s mostly nahihirapan siyang mag-prevent, you know naman, matagal na itong mga kalokohang ito -- mga illegal mining, black sand minding, illegal quarrying," the senator said.

Earlier, the Environment Secretary was grilled about the government's reforestation program.

The National Greening Program (NGP) is the Aquino administration's biggest environment program, with the goal of planting 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares by 2016.

So far, the program has planted 392 million trees over 683,482 hectares, according to data from the DENR.

It receives the lion's share of the department's budget – P6.1 billion out of P23.36 billion or around 27 percent.

Osmeña criticized Paje for supposedly failing to implement the government's massive forest rehabilitation program.

"'Yung national greening program naging national browning program. There are many issues. Nahihirapan siyang mag-prevent ng mga kalokohang ito -- mga illegal mining, black sand mining, illegal quarrying," the senator said.

"I don't know. Marami naman kine-question diyan sa Gabinete ni PNOY (President Aquino) who lack the competence but they still back them up. Wala naman tayong magagawa, that's the prerogative of the president. It’s a pity for the country, but what can we do?" Osmena added.

Another oppositor to Paje's confirmation, civil society worker Elizabeth Carranza, accused the Cabinet official of failure to stop corruption in his department.

However, Carranza admitted that she has not personally witnessed any of the department's workers committing corrupt practices.

Other Cabinet officials waiting for the CA's nod include--Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman and Justice Sectary Leila de Lima.

Soliman's confirmation was already approved by a CA committee last week but de Lima's confirmation is still in rough sailing as she is scheduled to answer more questions from CA members in separate hearings on June 11 before Congress adjourn sine die. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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