March 28, 1999

A Call to Save Samar and Leyte's Biodiversity

The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) together with a coalition of local government units (LGUs), officials, non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and people's organizations (PO's) protest the conduct of the ELF Aquitaine Authentic Adventure competition in the islands of Samar and Leyte.

ELF Aquitaine is a French corporate group engaged in the development, marketing, and shipping of petrochemicals as well as mining of ores such as nickel and coal in France, North America, Africa and Australia. It has also diversified into industrial activities such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, plastics, energy and data gathering. While ELF sponsors automotive and sailing competitions, it has now organized the ELF Authentic Adventure.

The ELF Authentic Adventure is envisioned as an expedition and competition through unexplored natural environments, independently and continuously for 2 weeks. 40 teams of 7 members each are to " hike in the jungle, climb mountains, descend rivers, sail on the sea and go deep underground to traverse caves." All the while the teams race against one another, cut new trails and take shortcuts along the way hoping to be the first to reach the finish line.

The first ELF Adventure is planned to take place from the 15th of April until the 1st of May 1999. The participants will start in Catarman in Northern Samar, pass through the interior of Samar Island, and exit in Tacloban Leyte. The 40 teams will be bringing their own equipment and supplies and supported by a logistics team, whose number is unlimited. Accompanying the teams will be officials, jurors, media people, local military and police units, and spectators. All told, an estimated 500 to 600 persons are expected to be in the area.

We raise the following concerns:

1) Impact on Samar and Leyte's Biodiversity

The islands of Samar and Leyte contain the remaining extensive tracts of old growth forests in eastern Visayas. Dr. Lawrence R. Heaney reports that the old growth forests of Leyte harbor 15 species on native non-flying mammals. These include the Philippine Brown Deer, the Philippine Warty Pig and the Mindanao Shrew Mouse which are all endemic and in danger due to habitat destruction. The old growth and secondary forests of Samar, on the other hand represent one of the richest repositories of biodiversity in the Philippines. Samar Island has in fact been declared as an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) and a Center for Plant Diversity (CPD). Significantly, the forests of Samar harbor the Philippine Eagle or Monkey Eating Eagle, classified as critical due to habitat destruction and disturbance.

The ELF Adventure will take no less than 500 people through the habitats of these vanishing treasures of the Philippine rain forest. Their uncontrolled activities will have a significant toll on Samar and Leyte's biodiversity. ELF competitors will likewise pass through rivers, caves and the coastal areas, all of which support ecosystems which may be irreparably harmed.

2) The Absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment

Given the location and the nature of the activities to be conducted in the area, the ELF Adventure requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA should study the ecological, geophysical and socio-economic impacts of the preparatory, operational and decommissioning phases of the activity. Aside from analyzing the cause and effect relationship between the proposed activity and the environment, the EIA should recommend actions to mitigate these impacts. This information should be presented in a manner that can be easily understood by planners and decision-makers in the area.

The conduct of an EIA is a requirement under Philippine law. Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1151 provides that all agencies and instrumentalities of the national government, including government owned and controlled corporations, as well as private corporations, firms and entities shall prepare, file and include in every action, project or undertaking which significantly affects the quality of the environment, a detailed statement on:

(a) the environmental impact of the proposed activity, project or undertaking;
(b) any adverse environmental effect which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented;
(c) alternative to the proposed action;
(d) a determination that the short term uses of the resources of the environment are consistent with the maintenance and enhancement of the long term productivity of the same; and
(e) whenever a proposal involves the use of depletable or non-renewable resources, a finding must be made that such use and commitment are warranted.
Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. 1586 reiterates the above requirement for the conduct of an environmental impact assessment. Failure to conduct an EIA and to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) is a bar to the commencement or operation of the project or undertaking.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No. 96-37 provides for guidelines and strengthens the implementation of the Philippine EIA system. DAO No. 96-37 provides that the EIA system covers projects or activities located in environmentally critical areas (ECA's). Environmentally critical areas include:

(a) All areas declared by law as national parks, watershed reserves, wildlife preserves and sanctuaries;
(b) Areas set aside as aesthetic potential tourist spots;
(c) Areas which constitute the habitat for any endangered or threatened species of indigenous Philippine wildlife;
(d) Areas with critical slopes.
Section 1of DENR Administrative Order No. 96-37 explicitly provides that no person shall undertake or operate any activity, undertaking or project within an ECA without first conducting the appropriate environmental impact assessment and securing an environmental compliance certificate.

3) Portions of the Activity will be Conducted in a Protected Area

We note that part of the activity will be held in the interior of Samar Island where the Samar Forest Reservation, a declared protected area under Philippine law, is located. As such, the activity will also be governed by Republic Act No. 7586, the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.

Section 20 of the NIPAS Act provides that except as may be allowed by the nature of their categories and pursuant to rules and regulations governing the same, the following acts are prohibited within protected areas:

(a) Hunting, destroying, disturbing, or mere possession of any plants or animals or products derived therefrom without a permit from the protected area management board;
(b) Dumping of any waste products detrimental to the protected area, or to the plants and animals or inhabitants therein;
(c) Constructing or maintaining any kind of structure fences or enclosures, conducting any business enterprise without a permit.
Section 12 of the NIPAS Act further provides that proposals for activities which are outside the scope of the management plan for protected areas shall be subject to an environmental impact assessment as required by law before they are adopted, and the results thereof shall be taken into consideration in the decision making process. No actual implementation of such activities shall be allowed without the required ECC under the Philippine EIA system.

4) Lack of an Ecotourism Management Plan

The ELF Adventure is supposedly an ecotourism activity. As such, the activity should be governed by pertinent Philippine laws and policies on ecotourism. Joint Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of Tourism (DOT) Memorandum Circular No. 98-02, entitled "Guidelines for Ecotourism Development in the Philippines", defines ecotourism in the Philippine context as:

"A low-impact, environmentally-sound and community-participatory tourism activity in a given natural environment that enhances the conservation of biophysical understanding and education and yields socio-economic benefits to the concerned community."
Section 6 of Joint DENR-DOT Memorandum Circular No. 98-02 provides for requirements and procedures for the development and implementation of ecotourism projects and activities. Proposals shall be submitted for review and evaluation to the National Ecotourism Committee (NEC) or Regional Ecotourism Committee (REC). Significantly, Section 6.1 requires the submission of, among others, an Initial Environmental Examination or and Environmental Impact Assessment. Once the proposal is accepted, the proponent shall submit a more detailed Ecotourism Management Plan (EMP).

Such plan must be complementary with the Protected Area General Management Plan, if the site is within a protected area.

The benefits of the ELF adventure being flouted may be considerable, but the adverse effects, which inevitably accompany the positive ones, need to be addressed by careful planning and effective management. The guiding principle for any tourism activity within protected areas is to manage the natural and human resources as to maximize visitor enjoyment while minimizing negative impacts of tourist activities. This requires an objective assessment of potential negative impacts and a thoughtful analysis of how this potential can be controlled. An EIA and an ecotourism management plan can meet the need for such assessment. Unfortunately, up until now, we have not seen a management plan for the activity, much less an environmental impact assessment.

5) No Genuine Consultations with Affected Communities

As you may note in the protest letter attached hereto, the activity did not undergo genuine consultations with local government units (LGU's), affected communities and civil society based in the area. Based on the ELF Aquitaine website, the Philippine partners include the Ayala Mountaineers Club, Uplift, both NGOs based in Manila, and the Leyte Park Hotel, a hotel in Tacloban City. We have no information if the activity is supported by or endorsed by other area-based NGOs. We believe that the proponent of the ELF Adventure should at least conduct consultations at the local level. Better yet, public hearings and dialogues should be held. This would enable the proponent to inform the local government units, NGOs and other stakeholders of the nature and objectives of the ELF Adventure competition. Concurrently, the stakeholders can use such information to arrive at an informed decision.

Based on the foregoing, we vigorously protest the proposed ELF Adventure. At the same time, we urge that ELF Aquitaine cease all preparatory activities pending a resolution of the above concerns, as well as the concerns of the Samar local government units and civil society. If ELF Aquitaine respects the environment, such respect should begin with adherence to Philippine environmental laws and the conduct of a genuine dialogue with all affected sectors. If ELF Aquitaine values ecological balance then it should place a premium on an objective assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed activity and a sound environmental management plan. If ELF Aquitaine wants to promote genuine ecotourism, its should conform with Philippine ecotourism concepts and guidelines and conduct its activities in a low-impact, environmentally sound and community-participatory manner.

The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), together with various local government units, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, call on your good office to help us resolve this matter before it escalates. We urge you to respect our environmental laws, conduct dialogues with all affected sectors, value ecological balance, and promote genuine ecotourism. While the Filipino is known for his hospitality and friendliness, we do not take kindly to disrespect, and while we are known to be non-confrontational, we are not afraid to institute the appropriate legal actions and initiate advocacy campaigns in defense of the environment of the islands of Samar and Leyte.

Atty. Jose Andres A. Canivel
Visayas Coordinator
Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC)

Margarita de la Cruz
Guiuan Development Foundation Inc. (GDFI)
Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Rosario N. Cabardo
Executive Director
Tandaya Foundation

Mr. Efren C. Piczon
Programme Director
Western Samar Agricultural Resources Development Program

Mayor Melchor F. Nacario
Mayor, Municipality of Calbiga
President, Mayor's League of Samar

Rev. Fr. Cesar Aculan
Director CARITAS

Rev. Fr. Niceas Abejuela
Multisectoral Forest Protection Committee
Province of Samar

Manuel G. Ebro
Scuba Instructor, Spelunker
Paranaque City, Philippines


Fellow environmental advocates:

We ask for your help in preserving the precious biodiversity in Samar and Leyte. You can help us by signing you name above and/or by forwarding this letter to people or organizations that may be of assistance. Please send this message back to us so that we can include your name in the letter we will send to ELF Aquitaine. You may also write to ELF, through their communications division email address:

Thank you very much.

The First ELF Authentic Adventure was held in Samar and Leyte in April 1999:

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