Quarrying around Mayon means money for Albay capitol, and for corruption, too

By Manly M. Ugalde LEGAZPI CITY --- With more than 100 companies engaged in quarrying around Mayon Volcano here, and more are poised to join the fray, the provincial government of Albay stands to gain more revenues, thanks to the amended expanded provincial ordinance on quarrying. From the annual average income of only P10M a year under the old provincial ordinance, the province is now targeting to earn P300M for 2018 with the new ordinance amended in 2016. Danny Garcia, spokesman of Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara said that as of August 2018, the province has already recorded an income of P200M from Mayon quarrying. Last September 11, however, Albayanos were rocked by reports that corruption had attended the lucrative quarrying operation as unraveled during the provincial board session conducted by the Committee on Housing and Land Use chaired by Provincial Board Member Howard Imperial. With a recorded 151 firms already engaged in Mayon quarrying, particularly as the expansive portions at the foot of Mayon volcano with its black sand, creeks and rivers, poor Albayanos that used to enjoy free gathering of gravel, sand and boulders along rivers now complained against the effect of the amended quarry ordinance that force them to buy sand from concessionaires and traders at P500 per cubic meter. The amended Mayon quarry ordinance was sponsored by Provincial Board Member Rolly Rosal that increases the rate of aggregates per cubic meter. Rosal, brother of Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal was then chairman of the Committee on Environment in 2016 when he sponsored the amended quarry ordinance. He was succeeded by fellow Provincial Board Member Job Belen. Provincial Board Member Allan Ranola said that true to the statement of the governor, from the usual average annual income of only P10M under the administration of former Governor Joey Salceda, Albay has already posted an income of P77M early this year from its more than 50 quarry concessionaires. By August, Albay quarry tax collection has jumped to P200M, according to Ranola. Salceda reportedly did not take advantage of the amended quarry tax rates as he preferred that ordinary Albayanos should partake of free collection of aggregates that are abundant around Mayon Volcano. Described as a first class-type of aggregate, sand from around Mt. Mayon has attracted various inter-island vessels to dock at the ports in the province to haul the aggregates for such volume that the ships could carry. A source said many concessionaires have already expanded quarrying of gravel and sand at the higher portion of Mayon within the 7-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone even when the more hazardous 6-kilometer danger zone has been declared by the Philippine Volcanic and Seismology as no man’s land. Graft scandal The lucrative enterprise, however, did not sit well with some members of the provincial board due to reports of corruption and other scandal arising from irregular collection of quarrying fees. It will be recalled that last January 2018, Rosal delivered a privilege speech at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan session hall pointing to high quarrying collection rates not covered by appropriate Sanggunian resolution. During the SP Sept. 11 probe sponsored by Imperial’s SP committee, a certain Noli Ferrer claimed irregularities in receiving kickbacks from quarry operators, implicating some personalities at the capitol, including himself and an official of the capitol’s Environment and Natural Resources Office. He said a former barangay chairman in Daraga town and said to be a political officer of the governor he named as Kapitan Bilang is calling the shots in the quarry operation. The former barangay chair who holds office at the capitol earned the Kapitan Bilang tag because he was often seen counting wads of money in his office, according to testimony by Ferrer. Other testimonies include the misdeclaration of hauled aggregates to justify lower collection of fees, while the remaining balance goes to the pockets of capitol personnel tasked with monitoring quarry operations and collection of fees. No testimonies during the probe, however, have directly nor indirectly implicated Gov. Bichara who was reported to have ordered investigation of capitol personnel involved in the quarry scandal. Imperial clarified that based on the testimony of witnesses, some P70M from quarry goes to kickbacks, adding that from January to August, this year, some 4 million cubic meters of aggregates have already been extracted and delivered by concessionaires within the province and outside the region to as far as Metro Manila and Mindanao. Witnesses said that of the minimum 1,600 cubic of aggregates applied for delivery by a concessionaire, the corresponding receipt issued by the Provincial Treasurer’s was made good only for 500 cubic meters. In addition, a separate pre-paid P7 per cubic meter was allegedly imposed for local delivery. For delivery aggregates outside the province, the pre-paid charge imposed was pegged at P25 per cubic meter, according to witnesses’ testimony. According to Ferrer, the prepaid P7 and P25 charges per cubicmeter is separate from the goodwill money one has to pay for applicants for quarry permit. He said such irregularities that he first posted in his Facebook account deserve a congressional investigation.