Saturday, March 25, 2006

National Government Asks Supreme Court to Deny Palawan’s Claim to 40% Share in Malampaya

BYPASSING THE COURT of Appeals, the national government is seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court to hasten the resolution of its long-standing dispute with the provincial government of Palawan over the latter’s claim to a 40 per share in the revenues from the Malampaya natural gas project.

In a petition for review filed by three cabinet officials, the national government asked the High Court to reverse and nullify the Dec. 16, 2005 decision of Regional Trial Court Judge Bienvenido Blancaflor, who had ruled that the province is entitled to its natural wealth share in accordance with the Local Government Code.

Energy Sec. Raphael Lotilla, Finance Sec. Margarito Teves, and Budget Sec. Romulo Neri represented the national government in the petition, which was filed last Feb. 14.

The petitioners asked the court to nullify an amended order from Judge Blancaflor last Jan. 16 directing the national government to “freeze” 40% of the revenues from the Malampaya Natural Gas project in order to protect Palawan’s expected share.

They also asked the Supreme Court to “render judgment declaring that respondent, as a matter of law and under the undisputed facts, is not entitled to the 40% share of the gross revenue accruing from the Comago-Malampaya (sic) natural gas project.”

Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes, representing the provincial government, was named respondent in the petition. He has instructed the Provincial Legal Office, which received its copy of the petition last Feb. 22, to strengthen Palawan’s position on the wealth sharing controversy, provincial information officer Rolando Bonoan, Jr. said.

The governor was not worried about the national government’s decision to elevate the issue to the Supreme Court, Bonoan added, saying “Paniwala niya, malakas ang laban namin.”

In defending their decision to file the case with the Supreme Court and not with the Court of Appeals, the petitioners cited the “compelling public interest” surrounding the Malampaya revenue issue, as it involves two contending government parties.

“Recourse to the Court of Appeals will merely delay the resolution of the urgent matters raised in this petition considering that whatever decision the Court of Appeals may render thereon will ultimately be raised to this Honorable Court,” the petition stated.

The petitioners said a motion for reconsideration would be “useless” as the Regional Trial Court had already passed judgment on the issue and the same arguments would be presented.

“No material fact is in dispute and the issue being raised here is purely legal,” the petitioners said, adding that, “such a petition is proper for filing with this Honorable Court.”

Question of Territory

The national government contended that the lower court “gravely erred, if not committed grave abuse of discretion,” when the latter invoked the principle of devolution in handing down a favourable decision to the provincial government of Palawan.

According to the petition, the concept of territory in the Local Government Code “refers only to its land area” except for municipalities, which have jurisdiction over municipal waters within 15 kilometers of their terrestrial boundaries.

“The contention of respondent, which the trial court upheld, that the maritime area between the Kalayaan islands and mainland Palawan is part of the territory of Palawan is inconsistent with the archipelagic and Regalian doctrines as enshrined in the constitution. Said maritime area belongs to the national territory,” the petition stated.

Kalayaan is the smallest of Palawan’s 23 municipalities.

The Malampaya natural gas project is located in the South China Sea, some 80 kilometers off northwestern Palawan. The Philippine government entered into a service contract with Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. and Occidental Philippines Inc. for the operation of the Camago-Malampaya field on Dec. 11, 1990. The natural gas project has since become the largest single investment in the country.

The government is expecting up to $10 billion in revenues from the project over a period of 20 years, according to the petition. This would have fetched the province of Palawan some $200 million (about 10 billion pesos) per year as its natural wealth share, but the Arroyo administration only released P600 million to provincial officials prior to the 2004 presidential elections.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Island Voice

It's the second and last day of our hands-on workshop on blogging and podcasting sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. We've just plowed through a mind-numbing session on the ins and outs of this new Internet beastie called podcasting, and my mind is still reeling from all those new websites, programs, and techie terms that our resource person J. Angelo Racoma generously shared with the participants.

Since I don't have 24-hour Internet connection, not to mention the luxury of time to surf all those tons of info, I haven't really explored the world of podcasting all that much. I've been meaning to download the EDSA 20/20 podcasts of PCIJ since they first sent out an advisory about it, but I still haven't gone around to doing that yet. Hopefully, I'll find time to do that one of these days (between my editing and mentoring and research work, groan).

What's getting me excited about the idea of podcasting is the potential to reach all the Palaweños out there who are hungry for news about their home province, and raring to hear the voices of their townmates through the Net. There are also those countless volunteers, researchers, and special projects staff who still want to keep in touch, and are still concerned about what's happening to Palawan's environment. I'm having a mini-brainstorm right now, thinking about who could be the best interviewee on mining, the Malampaya funds, tourism, the live fish trade, up and coming entertainers etc, and how we are going to post it on our blog. That would be really neat - those voices emanating from our tropical island paradise and reaching homesick Palaweños everywhere.

I'm beginning to like this thing called blogging, and maybe, if we can produce a passable group podcast later, its audio twin as well called podcasting.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

To Blog or not to Blog

As a media agency, we are probably one of the few ones that have been left behind in the digital revolution. While others are talking about bandwidth and wi-fi, we still have to struggle with our Jurassic dial-up connection. Every now and then, we get e-mail from readers across the world who are wondering when we are going to update our website, or when it's going to stop being "under construction."

We have no easy answers, mired as we are in financial difficulties and the weekly burden of putting out a good quality community newspaper on time. Last year, I saw a glimmer of hope when I was invited to attend a blogging conference for journalists in Manila. I've been aware of blogs for sometime, but had not really ventured into this new territory due to other concerns. The meeting was a bit of a let-down though, as there were no hands-on exercises.

Hence, the invitation from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to participate in Express Yourself! was a welcome opportunity to get reacquainted with this new relatively new form of cyber-communication. The program seemed very interesting, and the fact that it included podcasting was another big incentive to attend the two-day workshop on March 9-10.

After a fruitful first day of the training, I think the time I spent coming here was worth it. Despite a rerouted flight yesterday that turned our usual one-hour flight into a five-hour one, I'm happy that I decided to come here. I've finally published Bandillo's first blog, and I'm looking forward to another exciting day learning how to do podcasts tomorrow.

To blog then, perchance to gain (and regain, a wider audience, that is).

Green and Determined

One lazy afternoon at Kalui, a native-style restaurant in Puerto Princesa City, someone or other thought it would be a good idea to have an environmental magazine in Palawan. After all, the province is known as "the last frontier" of the Philippines, but there seemed to be a dearth of information about many of the problems concerning its natural and cultural heritage.

From those quiet musings, Bandillo ng Palawan magazine was born. Bandillo is a word in Cuyunon, one of the languages spoken in the province, that means "town crier." The founders envisioned the publication as a bridge between the communication tools of old and the modern methods available for spreading information. The name also reflected our wish to maintain a local identity, even as we expressed divergent views.

Fast forward to 2006, nearly thirteen years after we first published our magazine in July 1993. The magazine remains in hibernation, but we've maintained our weekly newspaper since January 1998. Now that we have entered this new era of texting and e-mail, we continue our journey into the Digital Age with this blog. In this little corner of cyberspace, we hope to reconnect with old readers, reach out to Palaweños in all parts of the world, and create a broader audience for our small community newspaper.

Watch out for the latest political news, environment stories, and even your favorite chika from Palawan in the next few days from this site. Dayon camo!