In Albay: Corruption in quarrying bared
By Rhaydz B. Barcia LEGAZPI CITY --- For every cubic meter of aggregates extracted at the foot of Mayon volcano and transported within or outside the Albay province, the government loses millions of pesos due to corrupt practices in the payment of fees vis-a-vis actual deliveries and other shenanigans, according to Albay Vice Governor Harold Imperial. The corruption issue came out during a hearing called by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay to ferret out the truth regarding alleged irregularities in the quarrying operation and the payment of fees to the provincial government. The hearing came about on suggestion of Provincial Board Member Pem Imperial, brother of the vice governor, to discuss the nagging reports about quarrying irregularities. Witnesses pointed to the environment and natural resources office and other personnel at the governor’s office as having to explain about the alleged corrupt practices. Based on the record of the provincial government, there are 141 quarry concessionaires across the province as of July 19, 2018. Out of the 141 quarry concessionaires, at least three of them voluntarily came out and revealed cases of irregularities in the quarry operation. Manuel “Rolo” Orquico of Rolco Construction and Development Corporation based in Daraga, Albay and one of quarry operators in the province revealed before the committee meeting of the whole here led by Vice Governor Imperial and attended by some provincial board members of undeclared collection income that should go to the coffers of the provincial government. He said his liaison officer was paying P7.00 for every cubic meter aggregate transported in Albay and P25.00 per cubic meter if transported outside Albay on top of the regular payments to the provincial government. He said such payments were remitted to Dave Cua, head of the provincial task force quarry, without official receipts issued by the provincial government. Orquico’s revelation was made before the presence of Environment and Natural Resources Office chief Ma. Theresa Atos. Cua is the second highest or next in-command to Atos at the provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office here. The scheme, according to Orquico, was that they were paying for 500 cubic meters of original volume of aggregates but in fact would be hauling 1,600 cubic meters of the aggregates. “The practice is that for every cubic meter, we are paying P7.00 if the aggregates are within Albay province alone but [when] outside Albay, we are paying P25.00 as standard operating procedure (SOP) given to Dave Cua of the provincial Task Force Quarry without receipt,” Orquico said. Quarry operators and workers were actually hauling aggregates more than the materials they paid for to provincial government’s coffer, it was revealed. Another witness, Lino Ferrer, a local radioman but also involved in quarrying business as liaison officer affirmed the irregularities involving Dave Cua in connivance allegedly with former Barangay Captain Alwin Nemo of Anislag, Daraga town, reportedly a political leader of Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara and a certain James Ruiz, reportedly a policeman. Ferrer also implicated the names of Danny Garcia, Gov. Al Francis Bichara’s spokesman, long with Provincial Bboard Member Job Belen, concurrent, chairman of the committee on environmental and natural resources, in that same committee meeting. But Dave Cua, Belen and Garcia all denied Ferrer’s allegations. Belen, a former radioman and correspondent of Philippine Daily Inquirer before joining politics, admitted that he was engaged in quarry business during the reign of former governor now Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda but has nothing to do with the alleged corrupt quarrying practices. Albay Gov. Bichara told this reporter that under his term the income in quarrying operation rose from P10M during then Gov. Salceda’s term to P200M under his administration. Bichara explained: “Under my term, we strictly enforced the provincial ordinances and permits to all concessionaires for the provincial government to collect what is due to it, unlike before. So from P10M income yearly in the past administration, we were able to collect P200M. When the collections in quarrying operations improve, sadly that’s the time that some members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan began conducting such investigation.” For his part, Vice Governor Imperial said that the provincial government generated P187,053,179.33 taxes on aggregates for eight months as gross collections (which approximates Gov. Bichara’s P200M income declaration) but on top of this, he said, there were still multi-million pesos worth of government money lost because of undeclared income, if not falsely declared collections.