The Environmental Ombudsman slammed local government officials of Pangasinan for engaging in illegal black sand mining trade in the Lingayen Gulf area.
Facing two counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) are Governor Amado Espino, Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan, along with Cynthia Camara and Lolita Bolayog of Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures, Inc ( Alexandra Mining).
Facing one count of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019 are Pangasinan Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Officer Alvin Bigay, Alexandra Mining Directors Cesar Detera, Edwin Alcazar, Denise Ann Sia Kho Po, Annlyn Detera, Glenn Subia and Emiliano Buenavista and Michael Ramirez, Gina Alcazar and Avery Pujol of Xypher Builders, Inc.
In the Joint Resolution, the Environmental Ombudsman cited that Presidential Proclamation No. 1258 ( 1998) declared Lingayen Gulf as an environmentally critical area and expanded the scope of the protected area to cover the barangays of Sabangan, Estanza, Malimpuec and Capandanan, reserving a protected area of 184 hectares for eco-tourism and other sustainable development activities and projects.
Upon assumption as Governor in June 2007, Espino crafted the Site Development Plan that would turn the area into an eco-tourism complex, with the development of two 18-hole golf courses at par with international standards. Immediately after, a negotiated contract was entered into between the local government and Alexandra Mining with soil remediation activities conducted in Barangay Sabangan as pilot area. On 29 June 2011, a Small Scale Mining Permit (SSMP) was issued in favor of Alexandra Mining. Barely three weeks later, Baraan issued a Notice of Cancellation of the SSMP and ordered Alexandra Mining to vacate the area.
On 08 August 2011, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was entered into between Espino and Xypher Builders for the removal of metallic materials from the sand pile already vacated by Alexandra Mining.
Upon request for investigation made by residents of the affected barangays, the investigating team of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of Region I issued a report on 18 October 2011 recommending that the SSMP in favor of Alexandra Mining be cancelled as it was issued without an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC); that Alexandra Mining be penalized for putting up a mineral processing plant sans ECC; and that a Cease and Desist Order be issued enjoining the mining firm from further extracting beach sand pending the resolution of the issue.
Notwithstanding this, almost a week later or on 26 October 2011, the provincial government issued Gratuitous Permit No. 02-02-2011 authorizing Xypher Buildings and the Provincial Housing and Development Coordinating Office to extract and utilize loose and unconsolidated materials, and recover magnetite sand in Sabangan. On 08 December 2011, Espino issued a Mineral Ore Export Permit in favor of Xypher.
In supporting the indictment for graft, the Environmental Ombudsman discovered that both Alexandra Mining and Xypher Builders are not registered contractors with the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board, and the ECC was belatedly issued in favor of Baraan for the Lingayen Golf Course Project only on 02 January 2013. Coincidentally, Alexandra Mining is not registered as a legitimate business establishment in Lingayen.
In approving the Joint Resolution, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales stated that “there is probable cause to charge respondents Epino and Baraan for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 for authorizing unlawful magnetite extraction activities in favor of an unqualified contractor/mining company,” adding that “by reason of the precipitate and irregular issuance by respondent Espino of the export permit to China, the State lost minerals in the conservative amount of
Aside from the criminal indictments, Baraan and Bigay were found administratively liable for Grave Misconduct and meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service, with the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in the government service.
Meanwhile, the complaints against Lingayen Mayor Ernesto Castañeda, Jr., Sabangan Barangay Chairman Hector Fabiana, Estanza Barangay Chairman Mario Navarro, Malimpuec Barangay Chairman Delfin Velasco and Provincial Consultant Eric Acuña were dismissed for lack of merit.
In May 2012, Ombudsman Morales re-activated the Ombudsman Environmental Team to handle cases filed with the office against government officials and individuals accused of violating environmental laws, which team is currently headed by Deputy Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera as Environmental Ombudsman.###
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