Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sec. Paje, Gov. Ebdane face graft complaint over ‘environmental plunder’ of Zambales | News | GMA News Online

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Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as well as other provincial environment officials are facing a graft complaint over their alleged failure to stop destructive mining operations in Sta. Cruz town.

In a 21-page complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday, four Sta. Cruz residents who belong to the local advocacy group Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz (CCOS) said Paje, Ebdane and 20 other local officials of Zambales should be held accountable for violations of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices.

The group said the respondents also violated several provisions of Republic Act 7169 or the Local Government Code and Section 5 of Executive Order 190.

“For the environmental plunder of our beloved town in direct contravention to their sworn mandate and duties as public officers, we charge the following criminally,” the group said.

Aside from Paje and Ebadane, also named respondents in the complaint were:

Sta. Cruz Mayor Consolacion Marty
Former Sta. Cruz Mayor Luisito Marty
Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno
MGB Region II director Danilo Uykieng
MGB Region III Multi-partite Monitoring Team head Lauro Garcia
Community Environment and Natural Resources Office head Raymond Rivera
Provincial Environment Management Officer Redentor Laureta
Environment and Natural Resources Office of Zambales officer-in-charge Liberty Hilario
Regional Council Committee on Environment chairman Samuel Ablola
Municipal Council of Sta. Cruz members Roberto Bejasa, Tristan Misola, Filmar Movilla and Rogelio Amog
Barangay Guinabon chairman Diosdado Alota
Former Barangay Guinabon chairman Sisenando Aquino
Barangay Guisguis chairman Honofre Arfapo Jr.
Barangay Tubotubo North chairman Luis Mistica
Barangay Tubotubo Sur chairman Myrna De Los Reyes
Barangay Lucapon South chairman Guillermo Ebanculla
Barangay Bolitoc chairman Nilo Angeles

Complainants Josephine Astadan, Salvador Cortez Jr., Berto Merced and pastor Edgardo Obra said the charges were for the alleged failure of the respondents to stop the destructive mining operations of at least six major mining companies in their town amid reports of massive environmental degradation in Sta. Cruz and other municipalities in the province.

“Since the operations of the abovementioned mining companies, there was a widespread gradual destruction and pollution of the land and waters of our beloved town. The damage to the environment of Sta. Cruz, Zambales by mining is well documented,” the complainants said.

The group was referring to mining companies Benguet Corporation Nickel Mines (BNMI), David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI), Eramen Minerals, Inc., Filipinas Mining Corporation, Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals, Inc. and Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation.

The complainants said these mining companies have been operating in Sta. Cruz since 2005 amid several suspension orders, cease and desists orders, and notices of violations issued against them by the MGB.

“Curiously, despite the widespread degradation and destruction of the environment in Sta. Cruz, Zambales that would lead even the MGB to suspend the mining operations of these companies, the local government officials…were strangely quiet and unaffected by the destruction and degradation,” the complainants said.

“No penalties were imposed on these mining companies, allowing these mining companies to continue their activities unchecked and to violate environmental compliance laws with impunity,” the group added.

The group said the concerned MGB officials, despite issuing the suspension orders, must also be held accountable for still issuing Ore Transport Permits (OTPs) and Mineral Ore Export Permits (MOEPs) to these mining companies “which allowed them to haul, transport and export their stockpile of laterite ore” rendering the suspension orders it earlier imposed “toothless and ineffective”.

“While residents concede that typhoons and floodings are regular occurrences in the province, nowadays the waters rise much too quickly which can only lead to the conclusion that the mountains now absorb less water due in a large part to the scraping of the forest cover by miners who have even bulldozed though plots covered by DENR’s Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM),” the complaint read.

The complainants further said that the nickel-contaminated water flowing to the town’s rivers and creeks have also affected their fishing and farming industries which are the main source of livelihoods of majority of residents.

Meanwhile, national anti-mining coalition Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) has expressed support for the complainants.

“DENR and the Zambales LGU have the responsibility to implement environmental laws and oversee that these laws are properly implemented,” ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said in a press statement.

“Unfortunately, these government offices have failed to do their respective parts which resulted in environmental degradation and violation of the peoples right to a healthy and balanced ecology as well as the right to sustainable development,” Garganera said.

The complainants, together with other members of CCOS and ATM, held a rally in front of the DENR main office in Quezon City on Wednesday before they marched to the Office of the Ombudsman to file the complaint.

GMA News Online is still trying to get a reaction from Paje and the other respondents as of posting time. — JDS, GMA News

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