CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews/30 October) — “We were left in the dark.”
This was how Rex Monsanto, regional director for Mines of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Director (DENR) described the bungling of the illegal mining case filed against two Chinese nationals allegedly caught mining gold in Iponan River.
The City Prosecutor’s Office on Monday dismissed the complaints filed against Chinese nationals Zhong Hengyuan, 43, and He Jiancheng. 42, both residents of the People’s Republic of China.
For local environmentalists, the DENR should take the blows for what they considered a setback to the campaign against illegal mining along the Iponan River.
City Prosecutor Fidel Macauyag said the complaints were dismissed because of the non-participation of the DENR, the lead government agency tasked to protect the environment.
Macauyag also said the complaints did not have an apprehension affidavit of the arresting officer stating the circumstances under which the Chinese nationals were arrested and no inventory of evidence to support the allegations.
Monsanto said the DENR team that headed the task force to inspect the barges in Iponan River went to another village, while the team composed of the police, Army and Sulog-One Sendong is Enough, an environment coalition, went to Barangay Pagalungan where they caught the Chinese nationals on a barge.
Monsanto said the DENR never intended to file a case against the foreigners because their personnel were not present during the raid and subsequent arrest.
“Our complaint and testimony will become mere hearsay in court since we were never present in the apprehension. We did not personally witness it,” Monsanto said
He also pointed out that Sitio Araw-Araw where the Chinese nationals were arrested is not part of Pagalungan, Cagayan de Oro City contrary to what was alleged in the complaint.
He said Araw-Araw is part of Barangay Bagocboc in Iponan town, Misamis Oriental.
Illegal mining is reportedly rampant in Iponan River, one of Cagayan de Oro’s major waterways, but local environmentalists have often complained that the city government was doing nothing to stop it.
Both the DENR and Sulog have blamed each other for the legal debacle.
Thinking the DENR was reluctant to file criminal complaints against the Chinese nationals, two officers of Sulog, Roldan Maglungsod and Ralph Abragan, filed the complaints themselves.
Maglungsod and Abragan alleged that the Chinese nationals violated Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Republic Act 7076 or the Philippine Small Scale Mining Law, and Executive Order 074-2012 signed by Mayor Vicente Emano stopping all mining operations along Iponan River.
Maglungsod, president of the Baikingon Farmers Association blamed the DENR team for breaking away from the convoy of police and army soldiers who went up to the hinterland villages of Cagayan de Oro Thursday to look for the barges engaged in illegal mining.
“The DENR team leaders wanted to go to one village first but we knew because we have information from the farmers that there was no activity there. We have chosen Barangay Pagalungan because we were informed that there were foreigners and we were proven correct,” he said.
Monsanto said that officers of Sulog did not inform them that they were filing a case against the two Chinese nationals.
He said they first knew the suspects would be detained Thursday night when Sulog officials asked for their presence at the police station in Barangay Lumbia, this city.
The next thing he knew, Monsanto said, Sulog chair Orlan Ravanera called up to inform him that the inquest proceedings against the foreigners were already going on at the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Monsanto said he immediately dispatched his subordinates to the Hall of Justice in downtown Cagayan de Oro. But the latter arrived late because of the heavy traffic from the DENR office, he added.
“The call came around 4:15 in the afternoon. By the time my people arrived it was already too late. The City Prosecutor’s office had already rendered its decision to dismiss the complaints,” Monsanto said.
Richard Nixon Baban, chair of Bangon Kagay-an said in an interview it would be unfair to blame Macauyag as “the problem lies with DENR’s MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau).”
Baban said he found it curious that engineer Daniel Belderol of the MGB, who was supposed to go with the raid, insisted on going first to Barangay Tumpagon when the “information from farmers in the area pointed the suspected illegal mining operations are in Pagalungan.”
“I still remember engineer Daniel Belderol heckling me to show evidence when I presented the mining situation in the upland barangays of the city during a forum on EO 79 which was witnessed by forum guest Christian Monsod and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma,” he said.
“Those stickers are useless. Why did they refuse to file case information when the two Chinese were presented at the Lumbia Police Station? Where are the weighing scales? Where are the guns that were confiscated? Why was there no representation from DENR during the inquest yesterday (Monday),” he asked.
Baban said he would file an administrative case against the DENR officials for willful dereliction of duty at the Ombudsman’s office next week.
“They are taking us for fools and they have breached our trust on them. What is legal is not always moral. Even though we had our shortcomings in the filing of the case, we still operate on a higher moral ground than the very people employed to protect the environment,” he said.
In a text message, City Councilor Edgar Cabanlas concurred with Baban’s suspicion that the DENR may have breached procedures in the filing of the illegal mining cases.
“Usually it is the DENR that files the case or it can deputize the City Prosecutor’s Office to file,” his text message reads. (Froilan Gallardo and Cong Corrales/MindaNews)