Photo: Local fisherfolks protest outside the Provincial Legislative Building after Gov. Roel Degamo vetoed a proposed ordinance declaring marine protected areas as “reclamation-free zones.” (Syril Repe)

The Negros Oriental Provincial Board passed an ordinance banning reclamation activities in all marine protected areas (MPA), overriding the veto by Governor Roel Degamo.

The session hall immediately erupted to a rousing applause after the ordinance was passed Monday, Sept. 27.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), mainly composed of the opposition, overrode the veto of Degamo who claimed that the ordinance is ultra veris or beyond the power of the SP.

Degamo’s legal counsel, lawyer Reymond Enojo, insists that under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 74, only the president’s office has the “right” to approve or disapprove ” all reclamation projects.

“Governor Degamo vetoed the ordinance because it is ultra veris. The ordinance they (SP) made is against the national law,” Enojo said in a mix of English and Bisaya.

Board Member Jose Baldado of the second district, who authored the ordinance, retorted that the local government code grants authority to Local Government Units to enact legislation that protects the environment and imposes penalties.

“Our ordinance was perfect in form and substance. It follows the law, and that is the basis of passing the ordinance,” insists Baldado.

Vice-Gov. Mark Macias said ordinance only needs a two-thirds vote of the 13-member provincial board or eight members voting to override the veto, but the ordinance got an overwhelming 12 votes.

Atty. Gold Benjamin, an international human rights lawyer and a convenor of #NoTo174 movement, lauded the SP for their “courageous political will” to pass the ordinance amid stern protest from multi-sectoral groups against a proposed P23-billion reclamation project off the shores of Dumaguete City.

Benjamin said Dumaguete’s reclamation project would destroy at least four MPAs, now protected by the “reclamation-free zones” ordinance.

Most of the 46 MPAs in Negros Oriental are within the 160 kilometer long Tañon Strait, the largest marine protected area in the Philippines.

Degamo clarified that despite his veto, he remains opposed to the proposed 174-reclamation project in Dumaguete City. – Ryan Sorote