Most of banana and pineapple plantations and other large agri-business companies in Davao City are not paying the Environmental Tax mandated by the Davao City Watershed Management Conservation and Protection Ordinance.
Only the Davao Agricultural Ventures Corp. (Davco) paid the tax, a report in Business Mirror said.
Davco is a joint-venture company of the Del Monte Fresh Produce and Antonio N. Floirendo Corp.
The tax evasion by the agri-business companies amounts to about P14 million annually, according to the report citing information from the City Treasurer’s Office.
The Environmental Tax imposed by the Ordinance also known as the Watershed Code aims to fund environmental programs to mitigate negative environmental impact of agri-business companies operating in the watershed areas.
The Watershed Code covers 32,000 hectares in the Third District classified as Conservation Area, Non-Tillage Area and Prime Agricultural Area.
Most of agri-business ventures in Davao City are located in the Third District, identified as the main recharge area that feeds the Dumoy Aquifer, the underground water reservoir where the city draws potable water for an estimated population of 1.5 million.
Large scale plantations have been banned by the code in the Conservation Area and, upon approval of the Watershed Code, given three years to phase out their plantations.
Sustainable farming is allowed in the non-tillage area but agri-business plantations may be set up in the prime agricultural area.
The Watershed Code has created three special bodies to ensure its implementation:
- Watershed Management Council (WMC), a policy-making body headed by the City Mayor.
- Barangay Watershed Management Council (BWMC), the ground-level collective of barangay officials where agri-business operates, serving as implementing body of the code and policies issued by the WMC; principally, the BWMC was tasked with delineating areas where large-scale plantations are allowed to operate.
- Barangay Multi-Partite Monitoring Council (BMMC) which monitors compliance to the code.
The code initially had a provision banning aerial spraying of anti-pest chemicals in the banana plantations, but this was deleted prior to its approval after the City Council passed a separate ordinance banning the practice over strong lobby by environmentalist groups claiming aerial spraying was a risk to people and the environment.
The anti-spraying provision of the Watershed Code provided the practice be stopped in three years.
The Anti-Aerial Spraying Ordinance would later be challenged by the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association earning a temporary restraining order from the court that allowed the plantations to continue using aerial spraying. The case is still pending in the Supreme Court. Had there been no Anti-Spraying Ordinance, the provision against the practice embedded in the Watershed Code would have totally stopped the practice three years after the approval of the code.
Due to the strict provisions of the Watershed Code and the uncertainty over the Aerial Spraying Ordinance, most of the large banana growers relocated their plantations to other provinces.
The landmark Watershed Code was authored by then City Councilor Ricardo Arnolfo Cabling, then chair of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. It’s original draft was a product of a six-month collaboration between Cabling and Davao City journalist Roger Balanza, who was then the private consultant of the environment committee chair.