Written by Suzie F.Abela
It will always sound like a romantic idea that came true- building our own hostel on the island of our dreams. When we first came here three years ago, we knew right away we wanted to be part of this thriving community, fueled by common love for surfing and nature. With the goal of building a home for travelers while exploring simple ways to support sustainability, we created and built Sinag hostel in the quiet area of Catangnan.
But behind all the exciting ideas of running the business is the unromantic and tedious process of setting up one, especially if you are on a major protected area in the Philippines. For the most part, we were out running errands for permits, chasing after people and consistently bumping into other business owners and local residents who share the same struggle. Choosing to be in this paradise comes with a great responsibility. And sometimes, in the form of permits.
Under Proclamation No. 902 of 1996, the island was declared as Siargao Islands Protected Landscapes and Seascapes (SIPLAS) with all its terrestrial, wetland, marine areas and surrounding islets. For the protection of SIPLAS, the impact of any project, may it be a small shop, a homestay with two rooms or a big resort with complete amenities, must be reviewed first and favored by the Department of Environmental Resources (DENR)-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) through Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
ECC has specific standards that must be met by the project proponent before and during the operations, from the time you started digging the ground until you plan to abandon your structure. This is to assess whether or not your project poses an environmental threat, from water pollution, air pollution and solid waste pollution among others. On a non-technical perspective, this is answering the basic question “Where does my waste go and how will I manage it?” through an environmental management plan.
On hindsight, all businesses who have already built their structures and/or now running their operations should already have an ECC, considering that it’s a major pre-requisite of building permit. No ECC, no building permit, no construction.
Out of 1,200+ registered businesses in General Luna, only 16%, which accounts to only 200+ establishments have secured their ECC, as shared by DENR-EMB on the previous session with Department of Tourism (DoT) on April 23, 2019. This was attended by some of the hotel, resort, homestay and hostel owners in GL. This may sound alarming from an outsiders point of view, but almost too funny to see how most of us became aware that majority of the people in the room belong to the 84% that haven't secured one. While the intention of ECC is really good for the island, it also sounds too technical for other business owners to handle, especially to most local residents. Some business owners opted to hire an accredited person to process the application for them and paid a good amount of money for the convenience. As shared by some, the cost of service can range between 30,000-60,000 pesos. If this is too much, you can always do it on your own. It is a long and tedious process, but if you get access to the right information on how to get started and where to go, it will be less painful than you thought.
Here’s a simple guide that you might find helpful on processing ECC, DIY style, based on our experience.
Three steps to ECC
Bulk of the work will be done at the local level (Dapa) by getting the endorsement from Protected Area Management Board (PAMB)- (SIPLAS) for ECC application. Without this endorsement, there is big chance that your application will be rejected. The rest of the steps should be easier once the first major step is done.
Get PAMB Endorsement
All the necessary forms you need to accomplish can be accessed online at https://ecconline.emb.gov.ph/live/.
But for additional guidance from the staff which we found really valuable, you can get these copies at DENR-SIPLAS located at Brgy 12, Dapa, Surigao del Norte. As soon as you have accomplished all the forms and gathered all the required documents, submit three (3) sets to DENR office in Dapa and get a receiving copy. You will then be contacted for a site visit where PAMB and Protected Area Superintendent (PAsu) will do an initial assessment of your site. After the ocular visit, you will be invited for the next PAMB -SIPLAS Executive Committee meeting which happens once every quarter, where you’ll be presenting your project in front of the PAMB members and other stakeholders. Members shall give recommendations for your project and decide upon presentation whether they will endorse you or not. Once endorsed, the final certification should be released in few weeks in the form of a PAMB Resolution. PAMB Endorsement and Inspection Fee costs 1,500.00 pesos as of Dec 3, 2018.
Submit ECC Online
You will be asked to pick up your PAMB endorsement in Dapa and the staff will advise you on how to apply for your ECC online. Your receiving copy can be physically submitted to DENR-CARAGA in Butuan to initiate the application. For ease of transaction, you can instead scan all your forms and documents, save them on pdf and upload it online.
Get your ECC
The order form can be accessed on your emb account and you will be asked to pay P5,070.00 for the ECC administration fee through any Landbank branch. The release of ECC should be 20 working days maximum provided that all documents submitted is accurate and complete. Your issued ECC can be validated online through https://emb.gov.ph/ecc-online-application-ecc-issued/. EMB regional office in Butuan can also issue the Certified True Copy of your ECC upon request.
Some helpful notes.
From the list of ECC requirements, you can get started with (g) Brgy Resolution duly adopted by the City/Municipal Council Interposing no objection to the proposed project since this will take around 40-65 days based on ease of doing business. PAMB-SIPLAS will not approve your endorsement without these documents.
Sworn statement and accountability statements, as part of the required forms, can be notarized in Public Attorney’s Office in Dapa.
You can contact the following EMB hotline to ask for assistance on the application or to ask referral for an accredited person to prepare your application. 085- 342- 5332, 341-3826, 342-1877
We can only expect that a tighter control shall be implemented by the local government and DENR as the island attracts more investors in the coming months. The already-long list of requirements will get longer and a stricter implementation of law shall be imposed. While a penalty of P50,000.00 for operating without ECC can be a good motivation to act as soon as possible, getting ECC is undeniably beneficial both for the business owner’s peace of mind and for the good of the island, as part of our shared accountability to protect it.