Despite the ban, quarrying sand and gravel in Surigao rivers continues

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/03 September) — Despite the total ban on quarrying of sand and gravel in the rivers of Surigao del Norte,  some operators have been spotted conducting their business as usual, Janet Escanan, officer in charge of the Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO), said.

Escanan told MindaNews that most of these operations are the small scale type of sand and gravel quarrying. There are no reports on large scale quarrying using heavy equipment.

“Kanang nanguha diha karon sa atong kasubaan, nagmano-mano lang. It means, pala-pala lang, wala pa tay report nga nay naggamit og heavy equipment,” (Those who are operating now in our rivers are using manual type of operation – we have not received reports they’re using heavy equipment) Escanan said.

But even if the operators are using “pala-pala,” it is still prohibited unless a special permit is obtained from the governor, she said.

It's business as usual despite the ban. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Special permits are issued only to entities undertaking existing road improvements that have foreign funding component pursuant to international commitments or agreements.

Escanan explained that special permits may be given to the extent of the operator’s need for quarry based on the program of work. She said she would monitor the quarry operations following reports that they are still going on.

Surigao del Norte Governor Sol F. Matugas, who expressed disappointment after finding out that these operations violate environmental laws, issued Executive Order 007 dated August 11,  canceling all permits of quarry and small scale mining permits in the province.

Escanan said the provincial government canceled a total of 103 permits although she explained that out of this number, majority of the permits had expired even prior to the cancellation.

But there are also quarry operations that had no permits since the start of their business, she said.

The provincial government’s task force 007 is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (DENR-MGB), Environment and Management Bureau (EMB), Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO), Provincial Board Member Semeon Castrence, as the chair of the committee on environment, and Provincial Administrator Romeo Cal, as the chairman of the said task force.

The bridge's foundation is at risk, too, and so are the people. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Cal recently told MindaNews that the operations on sand and gravel violated the one kilometer radius from the foot of the bridge, causing severe degradation of the foundation of the bridges.

“Quarry operations for sand and gravel have gone beyond the prohibited one meter depth thereby causing the lands in the periphery to erode,” Cal said.

He added that operators also excessively hauled resources beyond the need of a certain project as per approved program of work.

Sand and gravel operators in Surigao River expressed disappointment on the executive order.

John Apole, an operator  who uses only shovel and “palanggana” (basin) told MindaNews  they may lose their livelihood.

He said each worker earns only 450 pesos a day, an amount not enough to support their family needs.

“Now if they will stop us, then the government should find job for us to feed our family,” Apole said.

Paloy Tudtod, who has been operating for almost 20 years, said each boat can upload a maximum of 12 hauls daily. Every haul contains 40 bags of sand and gravel and can be sold at 100 pesos.

Tudtod said their group, composed of 20 individuals, is following environmental laws.

He said they have not received a notice ordering them to suspend operations.

Government, the group members said, should be thankful for their efforts of getting sand and gravel because if they are not doing this, residents near the river might be hit by floods during rainy season because there is no flood control or dike.

They claimed that former city mayor Alfonso S. Casurra even planned to dredge the Surigao River following the New Year floods. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)