Rama: First order of business

·3 min read

Beginning Tuesday, July 5, 2022, all construction of floating and fixed cottages along the easements of and within the coastal areas of the Municipality of Cordova is illegal.

Any ongoing construction is to be immediately stopped and barangay captains are directed to cease issuing permits or clearances allowing their construction, at least until an ordinance can be put in place regulating its operation.

The prohibition is contained in new Cordova Municipal Mayor Cesar “Didoy” Suan’s immediately enforceable single-page Executive Order 1, series of 2022.

Twelve days before the order, specifically on June 23, I had written here about these cottages and how a 39-minute discovery dive for three friends from the 10th branch of the Regional Trial Court in Cebu turned into a cleanup drive that filled a sack with bits of discarded plastic items—spoons, forks, cups, paper plates, other kinds of plastic wraps, various sachets, and other trash.

I can only thank Mayor Suan and his staff for not ignoring the problem—choosing this issue in fact as his first order of business—despite the many challenges he must face running an entire town.

Mayor Suan’s executive order does not mention penalties for violators, yes.

But the Local Government Code empowers Mayor Suan to exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services and activities of the Municipal Government, and call upon the appropriate law enforcement agencies to apprehend violators.

What the order does mention is that, on Jan. 19, 2022, when Suan was not yet mayor, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources wrote the Municipality of Cordova and “reminded” it to “observe legal easement and not to allow the return of establishments/constructions in easement areas to prevent loss of lives and properties.”

The date of the DENR letter to the previous administration provides ample context.

A month and three days before the letter, Typhoon Odette (Rai) pummeled Cebu, including Cordova, and other parts of the country.

In Cordova, winds and waves swept heavy debris from the sea into the shore and the immediate coastal communities, and left wide swaths of devastation behind. A SunStar Cebu report counted one dead, 1,500 families homeless, and a town in the dark.

But just what is a legal easement?

Easement is the lawful privilege to pass over the property of another, including property belonging to the public domain—rivers, streams, lakes, the shore, seas etc.; places a lawyer will quickly say are “beyond the commerce of man.”

The Water Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree 1067) says that, in a place like Cordova, Cebu, the entire length of beaches plus an area extending 20 meters towards the sea is considered easement of public use.

And while they may be freely used in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage, no person shall be allowed to stay in this zone longer than what is necessary for recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing or salvage or to build structures of any kind.

This means these cottages, occupied by party-goers who have the propensity to throw plastic into Cordova’s otherwise pristine waters, shouldn’t be there to begin with. Their presence is not only “detrimental” to the environment, but also a “blatant disregard of the law.”

But it is worth emphasizing that the order isn’t simply declaring the structures illegal and stopping new construction. The memo mentions “pending the enactment of pertinent regulatory legislation.”

Which means there is an endgame here—a creative and transformative solution that recognizes the value of the enterprise as a revenue stream for the town and to the enterprising people behind the venture, the importance of protecting the environment, and the need to adhere to the provisions of law.

I for one can’t wait to see what that is.

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