No more road constructions around Mayon

By Manly M. Ugalde LEGAZPI CITY --- Following an investigation by its Committee on Urban Housing and Land Use, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay unanimously voted to uphold the preservation and Protection of Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect cone. This came following the alleged construction of a circumferential road around the volcano by the Department of Public Works and Highways. For good measure, the Sanggunian recommended that any proposed projects around Mt. Mayon should first obtain clearances from Phivolcs, DENR, DOT, Albay Tourism Office, and the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, Provincial Board Member Howard Imperial, chair of the Committee on Urban Housing and Land Use said. But the Save Mayon Movement (SMM) was not satisfied with the probe conducted by the SP Committee saying that they were weak and designed not to put on the chopping block the political figures behind the P125M road opening project around the volcano that include intrusion into the volcano’s protected areas. The alleged Mayon alternate circumferential project was started by the Albay 1st Engineering District Office of the Department of Public Works and Highways in June this year despite the reported absence of clearances and permits from Phivolcs and DENR, such as the mandatory tree cutting permit and Environmental Clearance Certificate. The project was barely unheard of when it started. It came to public knowledge only after it was exposed in the social media early in October, also this year. A Cease and Desist Order was issued by the DENR after it recovered close to 9,000 board feet of cut trees and logs along the project sites that were found to have encroached the Mt. Mayon Protected Area. SMM claimed the project is a jump-start to an estimated P7B alternate circumferential road around Mayon measuring 264-kilometers. Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol in many radio interviews backed the project as a boost to the province’s eco-tourism and infra-development that will make Mt. Mayon appear like a lighted giant Christmas tree all year round. But DPWH officials refused to call the project as Mayon circumferential road. District Engineer Simon Arias of Albay 1st District Engineering told newsmen that what his office is constructing are simply farm to market roads, and that he’s not aware of any proposed Mayon circumferential road. The project, he said, involves four road openings that start from Barangay Bonga in Bacacay town (P50M), Barangay San Roque in Malilipot town (P10M), Barangay Magapo in Tabaco City (P25M) and Barangay Buang, also in Tabao City (P40.5M) Imperial, however, said documents furnished his committee by DPWH regional legal officer Oliver Rodulfo, did not mention any “road opening” project within Mayon. He said that the name of projects in the documents his committee received listed the four projects as the “construction of Mayon Eco-Park (P50M), San Roque Road Improvement (P10M), Construction of Mayon Eco Road Magapo section in Tabao City (P25M), and Construction of Missing Gaps, also in Tabaco City P(40.5M). Phivolcs and DENR fear that the project, if not stopped, may only worsen flooding in the lowlands. The Department of Tourism also issued a statement saying that the Mayon road construction was not part of the Tourism Infrastructure Priority projects. SMM founding member Cesar Banares said they have been receiving feedbacks from Filipinos in foreign countries who worry that such constructions around the volcano “would only destroy the natural beauty of Mayon that God has given us.” According to Imperial, the Sanggunian’s unanimously approved resolution will not and has not recognized any proposed construction activities within the volcano and that the preservation of the protected areas and Mt. Mayon as a whole should stay. He said while the government is spending money to relocate residents around Mayon in resettlement areas, road constructions within the volcano would only invite more inhabitants and thus destroy the resettlement efforts. Imperial also cited that the United Nation’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has already listed Mayon for inclusion in the Book of World Heritage for 2018 and any infrastructure activity in the volcano may only affect such nomination for inclusion. Board member Imperial said his committee will also ask the DPWH to furnish his committee the program of works and plans concerning the four road opening projects to find out whether the DPWH have ever conducted validation of the projects and how it was hastily implemented without the mandatory permits. He said his office has received reports that about 30 percent of the project costs has already been paid.