DENR suspends quarry operation in Albay

LEGAZPI CITY --- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geoscience Bureau (DENR-MGB) in Bicol said the suspension of quarry operations around Mount Mayon Volcano would take effect immediately once a formal communication is sent to the provincial government of Albay.

Guillermo Molina, MGB regional director, said on Tuesday, Nov. 3, that he was instructed by Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu to suspend quarry operation in Albay and investigate the complaints of villagers in Guinobatan town who were affected by lahar flow when Typhoon Rolly hit the province on Sunday, Nov. 1.

Typhoon Rolly’s torrential rains have triggered high volume of volcanic debris deposited at the volcano’s slopes to cascade down, which breached river channels and swept their way to populated areas around the volcano.

The lahar avalanche has either swept away or buried at least six people in the villages of Travesia and San Francisco in Guinobatan town.

In November 2006, Super Typhoon Reming packing 330 kph winds walloped Albay leaving some 1,500 people dead due to lahar mudflow.

Molina said they will hold a dialogue with Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara on Nov. 3, where they would inform the governor of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to Cimatu to investigate and suspend quarry operations in the province.

Molina in an interview said that while the suspension order is being implemented, he would conduct a full assessment of the state of all river channels connected to the slopes of the volcano.

The assessment would validate reports that some river channels were totally silted and have leveled off with the river banks allowing water or lahar to breach and seek other pathway in times of heavy and intense rains.

He said that after the river assessment, they would draw-up a policy rationalizing extraction of lahar and other volcanic materials.

MGB data showed that out of the 101 quarry operators in Albay, 100 operators have permits issued by the provincial government and one operator has a permit to quarry in Albay issued by DENR.

Under the DENR guidelines, all quarry operators have to seek Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) before a local government unit (LGU) could issue the corresponding business permit.

The guidelines also allow an operator to quarry sand and gravel in not more than five hectare land area near a river channel in a town.

In Albay, there are 500 hectare of sand and gravel quarry areas located near seven river channels surrounding volcano.

Meanwhile, Bichara in an interview said he welcomes the President’s directive calling for an investigation of the quarry operation in his province, saying, “any order from the President will be followed.”

He however said that he needs a formal communication about the suspension from the DENR so that he can consult this with the Sagguniang Panglalawigan concerning the suspension order on all quarry operations in the province.

Asked what would be the implication of the suspension, Bichara said suspending quarry operation would significantly affect the construction business, “it will affect government infrastructure projects.”

Albay supplies sand and gravel aggregates to the six Bicol provinces including the Visayas region, Bichara said.

Paul Alanis of Phivolcs has warned of a possible lahar and volcanic debris avalance along the slope of Mayon volcano once rainfall reaches a threshold of 10 millimeters per hour.

Phivolcs data show that the Mayon Volcano’s previous eruption has accumulated some 90 million metric tons of lahar and volcanic materials at the volcano’s slopes.