GOV. BICHARA WARY OF IRREGULARITIES: Probe of Mt. Mayon road project pressed
By Manly M. Ugalde LEGAZPI CITY --- Five members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan here have joined efforts to conduct investigation on the controversial construction of the so-called multi-million peso Mt. Mayon circumferential road project. Provincial Board Member Howard Imperial, chair of the committee on urban planning and land use, filed a resolution during the regular session of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ng Albay on Tuesday calling for an investigation as to how the proposed Mayon circumferential road project took off the ground without public consultation and clearance from both the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Joining the probe are fellow Board Members Victor Ziga, Jr., Rolly Rosal, Benjamin Imperial, and Jesaf Salceda. Meanwhile, the Save Mayon movement led by Cesar Banares, Rommel Aspe and Karina Discaya said the probe to be conducted by Imperial’s committee is separate from the probe being conducted by the Sanggunian Committee on Environment chaired by Job Belen. The Save Mayon movement has taken notice that Belen had already indicated his stand during the first and second hearing of the Committee on Environment favoring the Mayon road project as an ecotourism infra development project with an estimated cost of a whopping P7B. It was not clear, however, if the Committee on Housing and Land Use would ask for a public hearing on the controversy surrounding the Mayon road project being implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways. Former Vice Gov. James Calisin said the virtually unnoticed Mayon project is a clear abuse of discretion on the part of the DPWH saying that constructing a road network around Mt. Mayon would only worsen the flooding problem in the lowland area. According to Rommel Natanauan, chief of the Bicol Tourism Development and Regulation Division, the Mayon project is not included in the Tourism Infrastructure Project which the DENR considered in violation of the National Protected Area System of 1992. DENR Assistant Regional Director Robert Sheen told mediamen early last October that the Mayon project was not covered by a cutting permit and Environmental Clearance Certificate where rampant cutting of trees within the project sites have been discovered. Environment Management Bureau Regional Director Eva Ocfemia, on the other hand, added that a cease and desist order has been issued against DPWH Albay 1st District Engineering with a penalty of P50,000 for the absence of required permits. Mayon road construction began as early as June this year. It involves three separate road opening contracts in the Barangays Bonga, Bacacay town (P50M); Barangay San Roque, Malilipot town (P10M); and Barangay Buang, Tabaco City (P49M). Gov. Al Francis Bichara expressed surprise why the project has been allowed to intrude into the 6-km Mayon Permanent Danger Zone that may further open more gateways into the said danger zones which had long been declared “no man’s land” since the recent series of volcanic eruptions. Bichara lamented how the project pushed through without the necessary ECC and other permits from the DENR, Albay Capitol spokesman Danny Garcia said. Bichara who chairs the Regional Development Council also took note that said Mayon road project did not pass through the RDC. With a base diameter of 261.4 kilometers, Mayon Volcano has a pending application for inclusion in the list of World Heritage, with the necessary documents already submitted to the United Nation’s Educational Scientific Organization (Unesco) in France since 2016 for review and consideration in 2018. The provincial board members fear that the ongoing road construction may affect Mt. Mayon’s consideration in the World Heritage list. According to DPWH Regional Legal Officer Oliver Rodulfo, the Mayon project is being implemented by the Albay 1st District Engineering without direct particicpation by the DPWH regional office. He said every district engineering office has the authority to conduct bidding and implement projects costing P50 million and below with the plan and program of works also prepared by said district office. On the other hand, the regional office conducts bidding and implement projects worth above P50M, Rodulfo said. Save Mayon said the Mayon project was discovered early last October when trees were found to have been cut within the project sites. Exposed in the social media, support for the Save Mayon movement snowballed, including those from Filipinos abroad. Former Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Marcial Tuanqui, 71, said his relatives in the United States expressed surprise after learning that the Mayon circumferential road project was being pursued which they said endangers the perfect and natral lush image of the world’s most perfect cone. Ironically, Albay 1st District engineer Engr. Simon Arias of the Albay 1st Engineeering District denied any knowledge about a proposed Mayon circumferential road saying that what they were constructing were farm to market roads. This, despite pronouncements by Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol in radio interviews where he strongly endorses the Mayon project. Batocabe further underscored that the ongoing road project would create big impact on Albay tourism and infra development. Arias explained that the ongoing road constructions in Mt. Mayon is an extension of the old existing road in Barangay Bonga that also serves as route to the Apparition site. Save Mayon, however, disputed Arias’ claim. It said that the old and existing road leading to the Apparition site runs towards the crater from the national main road. In contrast, actual road construction connects Barangay Bonga to Mayon Skyline Hotel in Barangay Buang which is 3.5 kilometers from the crater, Save Mayon added.