|Vicente Oliquino (center)|
LINGAYEN, Pangasinan -- Complainants in the alleged black sand mining on a portion of the proposed eco-tourism zone here debunked claims of the Office of the Ombudsman that the government lost at least P10.7 million worth in mineral deposits.
“It’s fantastic. How could there be a loss of money here? The extracted minerals are there in stockpiles, untouched,” said Vicente Oliquino, lead complainant in the anti-graft case filed against Gov. Amado Espino, Jr. and 18 others, in a press interview Sunday at his residence in barangay Sebangan here.
“There was no shipment, so there was no trading. How come such an amount was lost?,” added a stunned Oliquino, a kagawad of barangay Sabangan who is also president of Aro Mo ako Sambayanan (AROMAS), an environmentalist group which initiated the filing of the complaint with anti-graft body last January 2012.
Oliquino’s statements were earlier affirmed by lawyer Carlos Tayag, regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in a similar press interview two years ago.
Tayag had clarified that black sand extraction in the area did not violate any mining law.
“If the black sand has a commercial value, then the provincial government can sell it,” the MGB official was quoted by a national daily as saying in the press forum arranged by his agency in Dagupan City.
Tayag said the extraction of the magnetite or black sand was necessary because turf grass would not grow with its presence in the golf course area.
The provincial government is developing an 18-hole world-class golf course within the 135-hectare perimeter of the eco-tourism zone proclaimed by then Pres. Fidel Ramos as “reserved for eco-tourism and other sustainable development projects.
The former president led the ground-breaking ceremonies for the eco-tourism project on April 5, 2010 with a group of prospective Korean investors in attendance.
Owing to the controversy, however, the provincial government stopped the development of the project.
In a guided tour last Sunday, Oliquino and his group showed to the media group the untouched stockpiles of extracted black sand, now partially vegetated.
The complainants also showed the media the sprawling golf course area with crawling thick turf grass. Two man-made lagoons, fixtures of the golf course, also adorn the project site.
In its decision issued Feb. 28, 2014 by Paul Elmer Clemente, graft investigation and prosecution officer II, recommended by Gerard Mosquera, deputy environmental ombudsman for Luzon, the anti-graft body cleared Espino of administrative liabilities but found co-respondents, Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan and Provincial Urban Housing Development Coordinator Alvin Bigay, guilty of grave misconduct.
Baraan and Bigay filed a motion for reconsideration on their administrative case, while Governor Espino, Baraan and Bigay filed another motion for reconsideration on their criminal case.