Ghost firm menaces Tayabas Bay

Ghost firm menaces Tayabas Bay

A veritable phantom, a ghost of a firm threatens to despoil some 10 hectares of fishing grounds of Pagbilao, Padre Burgos, Agdangan, and Unisan towns in Quezon with a proposed seabed quarry project to provide, as claimed, landfill materials for the 318-hectare Manila waterfront Project.

Fisherfolk from the four municipalities has raised their hackles over the application for the seabed quarry project made by Palasyo Mineral Resources Inc., likely an offshore firm or even a dummy outfit to secure a permit with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Region IV.

The fishermen sent a letter to the MGB head office to ask about the PMRI application. To their consternation, they were told that such an application had already been received by MGB Region IV in December 2020. Yet, MGB Region IV records do not show that PMRI posted such an application request nor the firm even communicated with the regional office.

After being given the usual run-around, the fishers were later told that PMRI is going through the process of confirming the status of the areas to be covered by the seabed quarrying and securing clearances from the LGUs of areas to be covered by the project.

The fishers are similarly baffled by the lack of any document, notice, or scrap of information given to LGU agencies that would provide area status and clearances to PMRI.

Too, a Google search for a PMRI company profile, its operations, and officials yields no shred of information.

Another offshore firm, Silverquest Mining Resources Inc. (SMRI) is in a similar seabed venture to dredge mud, silt, sand, boulders from 2,124 hectares of seabed off the waters of Ternate and Naic in Cavite. SMRI said that a previous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) done in 2007 has identified the San Nicolas Shoal (SNS) as a prime area for dredging. Thus, a Government Seabed Quarry Permit was issued to the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) in August of 2008.

On top of the previous EIS, the firm is currently securing an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the DENR Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to get the go-ahead for the seabed quarry venture. Getting an ECC is going through a wringer of procedures, focus discussion sessions with stakeholders to ensure every concern is addressed, apprehensions eased, and demands answered satisfactorily. In short, an ECC is the veritable clean bill of health assuring that the undertaking would not cause the least harm to the environs, and to people.

“It also indicated no coral cover in the area except for some 2 percent to 4 percent coral cover in the Municipality of Ternate; the rest of the SNS quarry area has no coral communities,” the ECC for SMRI noted.

Unlike SMRI, PMRI isn’t laying its cards on the table, keeping Tayabas Bay fisherfolk and their LGUs in the dark and, just maybe, seething with rage and gnashing their teeth.

Environmentally retarded

Knowing their onions how pernicious seabed quarrying can be to the marine environs and its denizens, especially to fishing grounds that have provided livelihood to countless thousands of families, the Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture has turned down all applications for seabed quarry projects, including PMRI’s.

By mere numbers, fishing employs over a million Filipinos or about 3% of the nation’s labor force. Seabed quarrying is capital intensive, with heavy equipment– of foreign make and technology– deployed in lieu of workers to leech-suck the seafloor and transfer the materials amassed to freight vessels, where more state-of-the-art equipment sort out the materials.

Mining and quarrying are lumped as one economic sector which, per Mines and Geosciences Bureau, contributed a niggardly 0.6% to the gross domestic product in 2021 while the fishery and aquaculture sector pitched in 2.7% to the GDP.

The nation hasn’t learned its lessons from the S.R. Metals Inc. (SRMI) episode. SRMI in the guise of a small-scale miner threw an array of heavy machinery to extract nickel and cobalt ores and used barges to ship the ores to China. In just one year beginning 2006, SRMI had sold an estimated P2.8 billion– and exceeded the yearly 50,000-ton limit for small-scale mining operations many times over.

SRMI’s 10-year ore extraction operations that began in 2006 had hauled out the equivalent of P28 billion in proceeds that have yet to see the scrutiny of revenue examiners. The mining outfit raked in billions but the LGU in whose geography the mine never earned a cent in tax revenues.

Woes came to worst– SMRI operations had denuded hundreds of hectares of forests, rendered barren farmlands with run-off tailings, and devastated Agusan del Norte fishing grounds into which the tailings went awash.

The impact of the SRMI episode points up one fact– the nation remains environmentally retarded.

Bottomline findings

While inland mine operations assuage stakeholders and LGUs with reforestation schemes to compensate for the loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, no token move is taken by seabed quarry operators to give a semblance of repair to the damage inflicted upon fishing grounds and spawning areas for marine life.

“Whatever is taken from the seabed cannot be renewed,” stresses Dr. Fernando Siringan of the UP Marine Science Institute.

Seabed quarrying has a ruinous impact upon shoreline stability, touches off death to coral reefs that are, in turn, spawning ground, sanctuary, and nursery for marine life– and in the long-term, loss of biodiversity, and livelihood of coastal populations, he explains.

Siringan suspects that the excuse plied out by PMRI in its request to secure a permit– to provide fill-in materials for the Manila Waterfront project– is likely a cover for what the seabed quarry intends to haul off a 10-hectare area.

He adds that research done on sites in Luzon’s eastern seaboard shows that these areas yield black sand or magnetite, and rare metals like vanadium that are more precious than gold and platinum.

“Dredging the seabed for panambak isn’t cheap,” he cites.

(ai/mtvn)

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