Environmentalists sue Dole over ecological tax

THE Interface Development Interventions (Idis) Inc. filed on Monday, September 18, a motion for intervention before the Regional Trial Court Branch 17 in Davao City to support the government over the issue on banana plantation that refuses to pay ecological tax.

In Davao City, the environmental tax of the Water Protection, Conservation and Management Ordinance has been a point of contention between the Davao City Government and agricultural firms, including banana growers.

The Watershed Code, passed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s term as mayor in 2007, provides that any plantation within watershed areas covering at least 50 hectares is subject to an environmental tax P2,500 per hectare per year.

Its collected amount will be used to fund conservation and rehabilitation of the watersheds to mitigate damages posed by those plantation businesses operating within identified watershed areas before the ordinance was passed.

The Davao City Treasurer’s Office (CTO) said around 20 plantation companies in the city are urged to pay the tax, which is a requirement for the annual renewal of the business permits.

But the Davao Agricultural Ventures Corporation (Davco), a partnership between Del Monte Fresh Produce and Anflo Management and Investments Corp. for pineapple farming, earlier filed a motion to the Court of Tax Appeals.

Davco questioned the CTO's dismissal of their protest. The company earlier paid under protest an environmental tax of more than P2.6 million.

Sumifru Philippines Corporation, a member of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, earlier expressed its intent to pay the environmental tax but has requested an extension pending a decision from the court.

Meanwhile, the Dole Philippines–Stanfilco Division was assessed of the environmental tax amounting to P3,324,825 pursuant to article 17 of the Watershed Code.

But Idis Policy Advocacy Specialist lawyer Mark Peñalver, in a petition submitted by the Dole Philippines, said the latter argued that such imposition is "excessive, oppressive, confiscatory, arbitrary and discriminatory."

Idis executive-director Chinkie Peliño-Golle, in an interview, said there are some plantations that refused to pay pending the court decision, while others are planning to submit their petition to declare the Watershed Code unconstitutional.

"These plantations are operating within our watersheds, threatening the city’s water supply with its pesticide use, yet they filed its taxes under protest. We are here to support the city to protect the Watershed Code,” Peliño-Golle said.

Peliño-Golle said the Idis will intervene in the case because the organization has been implementing programs in the Talomo-Lipadas and Panigan-Tamugan watersheds, as an advocate of clean water and healthy watershed since 1999.

"What the city is asking is only a small amount from plantation companies’ profits… And it is unfortunate that instead of working together to manage our resources sustainability, they refuse to contribute," Peliño-Golle said.

She added Idis, along with the watershed communities from Panigan-Tamugan, represented by the Bantay Bukid and Bantayo Aweg, would like to make sure that the constitutionality of the Watershed Code will be sustained.

The Idis intervened in the cases filed against the constitutionality of the Watershed Code with legal assistance from the Saligan-Mindanaw.
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