Albay lahar survivors want quarry operators penalized

Survivors of the lahar avalanche that buried homes and killed residents in Guinobatan, Albay during super Typhoon “Rolly” in November last year want the erring quarry companies penalized.


Three months and counting, the penalties for the 15 suspended violators are yet to be imposed.


Ettel Tocare of San Francisco, one of the affected villages, said the guilty quarry operators and local officials who neglected their duties must pay.


And they should, according to Guillermo Molina Jr., the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Bicol chief, either by termination of the quarry operators’ Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs), or asking them to rehabilitate respective quarry areas via the Environmental Management Bureau.


Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Usec. Jonas Leones said in an interview that “affected residents can sue these companies for damage compensation,” adding that they “may face administrative cases and a fine of P50,000 per violation.”


In a news release from MGB Bicol, 15 quarry operators were found to have violated the regulations by going beyond the authorized areas, while six of them have expired or no permit from the local government.


Leon Dulce of environmental activist group Kalikasan PNE said quarrying is a rarely scrutinized industry whose proponents are government officials or local corporate interests. According to him, the incident calls for an independent probe.


Environmental planner Randy Panesa also urged the DENR to investigate the effects of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program on the environment, as this flagship program has increased the demand for quarry aggregates including in the provinces.


Among the four construction projects in the region under this program is the Bicol International Airport, which is set to be completed in 2022.


It is reported that the Landside Facility (Package 2A), which covers the administration building, air traffic control building, crash fire rescue building, and the maintenance building, is 81 percent complete.


Sunwest Construction, whose managing officer is Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, according to MGB records, handles the project. Two Sunwest Construction branches were also among the named suspended violators.


Former Guinobatan mayor Christopher Flores said “quarrying is a necessary human activity,” but rampant and unregulated activities will likely result in human misery.