The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on July 17 disabled all water lines and facilities of Agumil Philippines, Inc., after a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) was issued against the company for violating Republic Act 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 and polluting the Calabugan River in Brooke’s Point, Palawan.

The four-page CDO, which was released by DENR’s Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB), stated that Agumil Philippines, a palm oil mill facility, has discharged wastewater that exceeded the DENR Water Quality Guidelines and General Effluent Standards pursuant to DENR Administrative Order 2016-08, a clear violation of the provisions of the said law.

As such, the company was ordered “to cease and desist from undertaking any activity and/or operating machines or equipment generating pollution during the pendency of proceedings before the Board.”

The issuance of the CDO came at the heels of a complaint filed by residents and officials of Brgy. Calasaguen in January of this year, when they saw dead fish and prawns floating in the town’s Calabugan River. The river was found coated with black and oily liquid allegedly from the processing plant of Agumil Philippines. The oil mill was located in the nearby Brgy. Maasin.

Upon investigation of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Brooke’s Point, the management of the oil mill plant explained that the pipes of their siltation pond were accidentally hit by a backhoe during their regular dredging activity causing a leak that flowed towards Calabugan River.

The CENRO observed that the damaged pipes were only covered with sacks and wrapped with rubber stripped from the interior part of a tire. Officials of Agumil Philippines said that these were temporary measures and would be replaced with a concrete mound.

The CENRO further noted that the outlet of the broken pipes was positioned towards a creek that is a tributary of the river.

Following this report, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) MIMAROPA immediately conducted wastewater sampling on January 24. The result showed that Agumil Philippines exceeded the allowable effluent standards of Phosphate-Phosphorus, Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD5), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), and Oil and Grease (O&G).

This prompted EMB MIMAROPA to issue a Notice of Violation against the oil mill on February 21; and to subject it to a technical conference (TC) on March 15 to immediately correct its violations. During the TC, Agumil Philippines committed to submit on March 22, its plant and treatment process and a comprehensive pollution control program/compliance plan. However, it failed to do so.

“The Pollution Adjudication Board saw that there is indeed a prima facie evidence that Agumil Philippines ‘has discharged pollutants that constitute immediate threat to life, and public health, safety and welfare,’ hence the immediate issuance and implementation of the CDO,” EMB MIMAROPA Regional Director Atty. Drake Matias stated.

PAB is a quasi-judicial body created under the Office of the Secretary of the DENR. It assumes the powers and functions of the National Pollution Control Commission with respect to the adjudication of pollution cases under Republic Act 3931 (National Water and Air Pollution Control Commission).

Besides stopping Agumil Philippines from generating pollution, the CDO also directed it to show cause why a criminal case should not be filed against it for using a by-pass, or a diversion of wastewater from its collection system. It also reminded the company that it may be penalized a maximum fine of Php 200,000.00 for each day of violation, which is over and above the administrative fine for other violations it has committed.

The regional EMB was tasked to closely monitor Agumil Philippines’ compliance with the Order.

“The effort to save Calabugan River in Brooke’s Point forms part of Secretary Roy A. Cimatu’s priority agenda to restore problematic bodies of water in the country and have clean water for all,” RD Matias shared.

“So we would like to remind everyone that the implementation of environmental rules and regulations is not only confined within identified tourism hot spots, such as El Nido and Coron in Palawan. We are mandated to enforce the law across the region and in the entire nation,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, DENR MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado thanked the residents of Brgy. Calasaguen for their vigilance in protecting Calabugan River and its marine resources.

“We are glad that communities are getting more involved in saving the environment. What Brgy. Calasaguen did is a testimony of our shared responsibility to protect nature, a mindful act worthy of emulation,” the Adornado said.

A team from EMB-MIMAROPA handed the CDO to Agumil Philippines Mill Manager Arthur Elicanal, and also posted notices of the company’s violations as part of the execution of the CDO. (With reports and photos from EMB-MIMAROPA and CENRO Brooke’s Point.)###