ORMOC CITY – Mayor Richard Gomez has recently ordered the suspension of sand and gravel extraction in the Panilahan River, as a response to complaint of residents that their farmlands and water sources were drying up.
He is now poised to suspend that of another extractor in Tigbawan River at Brgy. Can-untog, this city, after he made an unannounced visit to the area, and saw earthmovers excavating even the
mountainside already. Mayor Gomez have already sent the proper communication to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) about their findings. In the case of Panilahan River, the mayor is implementing the order of the MGB after they inspected the sorry state of the river.
The river straddles the boundaries of Ormoc and Albuera. Initially, it was claimed that Ormoc’s portion of the excavated river is narrow compared to that of Albuera, but a relocation done
by MGB proved to the contrary. The extractors who got their permits from Albuera were actually getting more volume of SAG from Ormoc. The operations on the Albuera side had also been stopped,
and concessionaires of both LGUs advised to work on rehabilitating the river immediately so that they could resume operations soonest. Mayor Richard Gomez has sternly warned SAG concessionaires in all rivers in Ormoc to comply with environmental standards or he would bring the matter up to Secretary Gina Lopez. He said that if the matter reaches Secretary Lopez, she might order a total ban on SAG extraction in Ormoc.
The mayor’s suspension order also affects some political allies who have SAG permits. Asked if he was not afraid to irk his allies, he said “no”. He added, “I was elected by the people
of Ormoc to protect their rights and to make sure that the environment will be protected from years of continued rape and abuse. It is only now that Ormoc will experience a mayor
that is hard enough or has the political will to stop their abusive extraction and operation.” The mayor strongly said that “Ormoc has been raped and abused for years already” and he is bent incorrecting that, to include strict implementation of environmental laws. “If this will be the reason that they will fight me in the next elections, then, so be it. I know that the people will be behind me in this cause because I am protecting them from all the abuses they’ve suffered for so many years,” Gomez said. As for the potential loss of the LGU from SAG
pointed out that Ormoc concessionaires were just paying P 10.00 per truck, which is not enough to compensate for the damage done to the environment and city roads.
He pointed out that SAG concessionaires in other areas of Leyte were paying a higher extraction fee of P 40.00 per truck already, compared to that of Ormoc. Figures gathered from the City Environment and Natural Resources Office show that Ormoc earned P 2.9-million in extraction fees in 2013, P 4.4-million in 2014, and P 6.2-million in 2015. There are also reports from the barangays that the declarations from the SAG permittees are not truthful. For example, 2014 would have been a bumper year with the boom in construction after Typhoon Yolanda.
There was also the ongoing construction of the SM Seaside Ormoc was a major supplier for its SAG needs. Mayor Gomez said the reported income is not even enough to rehabilitate the
city roads the SAG-laden trucks have damaged. Currently, Ormoc is also going through a construction boom, with three malls bent to operate in 2017. Robinsons Place Ormoc is half finished already and has announced they are opening on July 2017. SMOrmoc has already started construction, while City Mall is expected to follow suit.
Asked if he sees the SAG extraction suspensions detrimental to the malls’ sourcing of their SAG supplies, the mayor again said “no.” He pointed out that, “In the first place, it is the
fault of the operators that the rivers are in a sorry state. I told them that once they’re done with their respective rehabilitation work, I would right away issue their permits. As mayor,
we have the right to issue permits, therefore, we also have the right to revoke and suspend their permits.” In a dialog with SAG concessionaires, the mayor made it clear that much as
he wanted to be businessfriendly, a balance must be struck between business, the community and the environment. He urged them to help rehabilitate the rivers immediately so that they can
resume operations. By
Lalaine M. Jimenea