For hacienda overseer Alex Arroyo, 54, their 2-km. passageway remains narrow and inaccessible by big cars, but the river beside their sugarcane plantation in Hda. Gabaldon in E.B. Magalona continues to widen and change its course.
Arroyo’s family, together with about 30 households located between the plantation and the river, are worried that the time might come that the river will flow near their houses if quarrying continues in it. They both smile and frown at the situation, he said.
“We smile when they give us medicines and other supplies that we need. But when we go back to our homes and see the land eroding towards the river, we cannot avoid being disappointed by the situation,” he said.
Allowing or stopping the sand and gravel quarrying in their area has been a continuing concern in the community, when they heard that the five operators quarrying in Malogo River that were issued cease-and-desist orders (CDOs) by the provincial government are eyeing to operate again.
“Because of quarrying, the river becomes wider as the land slips towards the center of the area where extracting was done,” he said, adding, “But the operators have helped us with our needs, like medicine and school supplies for our kids and grandkids.”
Yet, nothing is still certain.
Provincial Environment Management Office records showed that Malogo River has the most number of small-scale quarrying in the province with 19 permit holders. There are six barangays of E.B. Magalona town hosting these operations, and in Alacaygan alone, there are four active sites.
Five operators have been issued CDOs for operating outside of the area they declared in their work plan.
As of April this year, there are already 180 permit holders for small scale quarrying in Negros Occidental, with five large scale sand and gravel operations registered in the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Western Visayas. The other rivers that have the most number of small scale operations are Himoga-an River (passing Sagay City), Maragandang River (in Bago City), Bago River (in Bago and Murcia), Binalbagan River (traversing Hinigaran, Moises Padilla, Isabela, and Binalbagan), and the Ilog-Hilabangan River (in Kabankalan City).
Applications for permits are, so far, increasing, with a running total of 900 individuals and private groups complying with the requirements set under the provincial tax ordinance, PEMO records show.
There are 12 registered large scale metallic and non-metallic quarrying operations in the province, based on the records of MGB, with sand and gravel on top of the list of what is extracted.
Revenue collections of these large-scale industries have also increased with KrushRock Corp. located along the Bago River in Abuanan, Bago City topping other Negrense non-metallic mining companies, with about P389 million in sales in the past two years.
The years 2016 and 2017 were also big ones for small scale quarry operators as the sand and gravel tax collected by the province from them amounted to P29 million and P24 million, respectively, compared to 2015 that was P21M. Forty percent of this will be divided among the barangays where the operations are located, 30 percent will go to the host city or town, and 30 percent for the province.
Local Revenue Collections officer Jessie Gumapas said this increase is probably due to the fact that more constructions took place during those years.
The provincial tax ordinance states that the sand and gravel share is P30 per cubic meter of quarried materials.
IRREGULARITIES AND COMPLIANCE
Apart from the CDOs issued to the five operators in Malogo River early this year, the provincial government, through the Treasurer’s Office, has filed 3,049 counts of complex crime of estafa due to falsified Permits to Transfer of a certain operator in Hilabangan River in Brgy. Orong in Kabankalan City.
In Barangay Napoles, Bago City, an alleged illegal extraction of sand and gravel in the non-operational quarry area of the Philippine Diversified Developers Corp. was also reported. Barangay tanods in the area said that they have identified two small boats going to the site and quarry workers getting loads of quarrying materials. By noon, they go back to their area near the Bago bridge, they added.
In another area in the barangay, there was also an active quarry operation that gets its materials from the middle of the river and from the riverside where the operator said they do the digging in the side as they are creating fish ponds.
In the Ilog-Hilabangan River located in Orong, Kabankalan, a conflict between a family and a landowner was also seen, involving payment for right-of-way of about P8,000 weekly, to allow the transport of quarry materials from the river.
The other party said they are accusing the land owner of land-grabbing by using “armed militia”, but this was junked by the owner of the landholding in Orong, who said that they have legal documents proving that the contested land belongs to the company.
The quarry operator who pays for the right-of-way has also been faced with resistance from some households along Ilog River.
These are only some reports collected through interviews of the DAILY STAR with the barangay officials and the community living in the area. Barangay heads also said they are now working on a resolution to fix the irregularities and create possible settlements between involved parties.
PEMO head Wilfred Ramon Peñalosa said there are about five monitoring bodies created to keep an eye on these operations, like the Task Force Balas Bato, Barangay and City Monitoring Team, Provincial Mining Regulatory Board, and the Multipartite Monitoring Team.
The monitoring bodies can apprehend any illegal activities of those in the quarrying sites and may endorse them to the provincial government for deliberation, he said.
Barangays located in the major rivers of the province, like Alacaygan, Don Jorge Araneta in Bago City, Malubon in Sagay City, and Orong in Kabankalan City, among others, have also reported that they conduct strict implementation in terms of monitoring and collecting coupon cards per transport of quarry materials.
Brgy. Capt. Rosendo Locsin of Don Jorge Araneta, and Teodoro Añalucas Jr., who were permit holders or permittees in small scale quarry before they were elected, pledged that, with their experience, they are now implementing strict guidelines in monitoring the operations and transporting of materials from their vicinity.
Apart from compliance with laws, one of the responsibilities of quarry operators is to conduct social development programs to help improve the community and protect the environment from destruction.
Some of the social development programs conducted by quarry operators are medical outreach, giving educational supplies to children, and even partnering with barangay council on projects like small infrastructures.
Peñalosa said the strict compliance of operators is needed so they will not be sanctioned with fines and punishments stated in the tax ordinance.
With sand and gravel quarry operations mostly located in areas inaccessible to regular automobiles, the people in the surrounding community are still deprived of basic services from the government.
In the case of Hda. Gabaldon, Arroyo said that the people living there, mostly farmworkers, usually depend on what the operators give to them.
“Our barangay captain has the idea that the quarry operations in Malogo benefited the people, which is true. But in the downside, our river suffers,” he said.
In contrast, Rodolfo Riopay, 60, a resident in the riverside of Bago River where there is an active quarry, said that because of the operation, flooding has lessened in their place.
“In the almost 30 years that he lived in the area, flooding had been reaching their doorstep until the quarrying came,” Riopay said.
Isabela Mayor Joselito Malabor also said that quarrying has been very important in reducing the siltation in the Binalbagan River, but despite the benefits, enforcement of the law will also be prioritized to ensure that the affected barangays in the municipality will not be placed in a worse situation.
Riverbeds have been the primary sources of sand and gravel materials in the province, there are many rivers and tributaries passing through the 32 towns and cities of Negros Occidental with rich mineral and rock deposits. And this potential has attracted more operators as the demand from the construction sector is high.
Peñalosa said that with the influx of permit applications, assessment of major rivers is already ongoing to assure that the river systems could still accommodate more quarry operations in the coming years.
“We do not want any operations in our area. I know these operators have been a big help to us, but our river has been changing its shape, as it goes deeper, then wider the next day,” Arroyo said, as he sat in his small house or “payag”, overlooking the 38-hectare sugarcane land, with the Malogo River behind it.
He said he is still worried as things are not certain for the river and the situation of the community living in the riverside. Will the quarry operations continue? That he do not know.*(With sources from PTO, MGB, DAILY STAR archives, and PEMO)
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