Group wants EMB head sack over city’s river mines

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – A group wants the regional chief of the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) here relieved over the issuance of permits to allegedly questionable quarry operations.

The group Sulog is suspicious of how the EMB 10 office was supposedly ransacked and how computers containing digital records of the permits were destroyed a day after they wrote Regional Director Sabdullah Abubakar for copies.

“RD Abubakar must be made to account. He lost any moral ground to stay in his position any minute longer. He must be ousted,” a statement from the organization reads.

The quarry operators – which Sulog said are fronts of foreign companies – use the EMB-issued permits as authority to dredge the Iponan River for sand and gravel. But Sulog said the dredging is to extract gold. They want the issuance of permits to stop.

Sulog had also earlier lambasted the EMB’s mother unit, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), for its mishandling of a complaint filed against two Chinese caught operating a gold mining barge in the area.

City Prosecutor Fidel Macauyag trashed the complaint on the same day it was filed, saying that the “non-participation” of the DENR already doomed the charge before it reached court.

As a result, Zhong Hengyuan, 43, and He Jiancheng, 42, both of the People’s Republic of China, were freed. They were not only overstaying aliens, they were also here on tourist visas, not work permits.

Controversies surrounding the environment, among them illegal logging and quarry operation, are huge issues here where, in December last year, thousands died after rivers – their channels constricted and floodplains reclaimed – overflowed at the height of Tropical Storm Sendong (Washi).

Responding to the accusation, EMB 10 legal officer Abas Lao quickly stressed that the records on the permits –known as Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs) – remain intact. He however did not comment on Sulog’s specific queries on permits issued to firms operating inside the Iponan River.

But responses from an official the Mines and Geosciences Bureau here, which like EMB 10 is attached to the DENR, tends to confirm reports of the sacking of the office and the destruction of the computers.

MGB 10 Regional Director Rex Monsanto said the incident will not affect their own cases because they operate on a separate system and have their own records.

Sulog Secretary General Bob Ocio argued that allowing the continued gold mining at the Iponan River is dangerous because the gold is in alluvial soil.

“Being alluvial in nature, there is no economical way that hydraulic mining or any sizable mining operation can free the gold without heavily silting the river,” he said.

But instead of protecting the river, Sulog’s position is that there is collusion between government regulators and quarry permit holders.

EMB chief Sabdullah Abubakar finds himself in the middle of the controversy; though Sulog Chairman Orlando Ravanera hints the official has in that same spot before.

In a phone interview, Ravanera recalled that EMB 10 was also under Abubakar when the lone local environmental watchdog then — Task Force Macajalar – battled for the moratorium of logging operations in the watershed area of the city.

“It was under his leadership that there were also suspicious and questionable issuance of ECCs to logging operations before,” said Ravanera. (Reported by Cong B. Corrales for Pecojon.PH/knr)