Monday, August 14, 2006

Palawan defends claim to Malampaya revenues

By Eliseo H. Valendez

OPTIMISTIC TO win the legal battle in the Supreme Court, the provincial government of Palawan stood firm in its claim that the Malampaya natural gas project is located within its boundaries and the local government unit is entitled to revenues from the country’s biggest energy investment.

“Legally, historically, geologically and ecologically, the Camago-Malampaya area is part of Palawan’s territorial jurisdiction, and therefore, the province is entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds,” the provincial government stated in its 102-page comment to the petition filed by the national government in the High Court.

At stake in the long-running controversy are government revenues estimated at eight to 10 billion US dollars within 20 years. The provincial government is hoping to get $2.1 billion as the local government’s share if the case is settled in its favor.

Last Feb. 6, the national government filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court that sought to deny Palawan’s claim for a 40 per cent share in the Malampaya proceeds.

The petition asked the High Court “to reverse, annul and set aside” the Regional Trial Court Branch 95’s decision issued last Dec. 16, 2005, which favored the provincial government. RTC Judge Bienvenido Blancaflor had ruled that Palawan is entitled to its share in government revenues from the Camago-Malampaya Natural Gas Project since October 16, 2001.

The national government also sought to nullify the RTC’s amended order dated Jan. 16, 2006, which mandated the “freezing” of the 40 percent local government share to protect Palawan’s interests, saying the lower court “gravely abused its discretion” in issuing the order.

In its rebuttal, which was filed on June 30, the provincial government argued that, “the trial court did not err when it issued an order to preserve the government funds, specifically the 40 percent LGU share which is subject of the petition for declaratory relief to prevent the dissipation thereof.”

The RTC “properly exercised its jurisdiction when it ordered petitioners, specifically the secretary of finance to deposit in escrow the supposed 40 percent LGU share which is a portion of the “special account 151,” the provincial government added.

The Malampaya project is located 80 kilometers off the northwestern coast of mainland Palawan. In its petition, the national government argued, “the territorial jurisdiction or area of a local government unit refers to its landmass. The only qualification to this is that pursuant to specific provisions of law, a municipality may exercise jurisdiction over 15 kilometers of its adjacent or surrounding marine area.”

But the provincial government maintained that Palawan has jurisdiction over the natural gas deposits.

“The petitioners hold the myopic, if not selfish view, that the national wealth extracted from the Camago-Malampaya area belongs solely to the national government. They close their eyes on the fact that farther west, more than two hundred miles offshore, lies Kalayaan Island Group which is also a component municipality of Palawan,” it argued.

The provincial government also recalled the speech of Pres. Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo during the 99th anniversary of the establishment of the provincial government of Palawan on June 18, 2001, where she explicitly recognized Palawan’s ownership over Malampaya.

Arroyo had said, “Mabait ang Diyos sa inyo dahil hindi lamang turismo ang bunga ng pag-aalaga ninyo sa likas na kayamanan. Yong pinakamalaking gas, natural gas project sa buong mundo ay nandito rin sa Palawan at ‘yan ang panggagalingan ng mas malaki pang kayamanan kaysa turismo ng lalawigan ng Palawan sa mga darating na henerasyon.

“At binabati ko si (Gov.) Joel (Reyes) dahil very modern ang kanyang pag-iisip, alam na niya na darating ‘yan sa mga darating na panahon ngunit puwedeng magamit ngayon dahil sa ating mga modern financial management under the Local Government Code na si Joey Lina ang naging author, ang mga lalawigan na puwedeng mag-float ng bond. At ‘yon ang gagawin ni Joel, kasi tiyak na tiyak naman na may darating na bunga doon sa Malampaya Natural Gas Project,” Arroyo added.


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