“Ours is a finite earth.”
Capiz is a province rich in natural resources. From the marine ecosystem in our vast sea and coastal communities to the diverse flora and fauna in our mountains and forest cover, Capiz is a beauty of its own.
Our natural resources, however, are finite resources that if not protected, will ultimately perish. Knowing that human activities cause irreversible damage resulting in environmental degradation, how serious are we in doing our share in fighting for the environment?
Environmental impact of quarrying
Quarrying, as defined by Ordinance No. 011, Series of 2017, is the process of extracting, removing, and disposing of quarry resources on or underneath the surface of public or private land. The same Ordinance makes it punishable for any person to extract minerals, which includes ordinary earth, without first securing a permit.
The recent issue on the apprehension of a Local Government Unit (LGU) of an unpermitted quarry operation has stirred mixed reactions from the public. The adverse party argues that the extraction activity is justifiable since the purpose is for the maintenance of barangay roads. Another even said that this is just an insignificant matter which should be tolerated for the general welfare.
These statements however are dangerous. Without securing a permit, quarry operators, for whatever purpose, will not be technically educated on how to properly conduct the extraction of ordinary earth, sand, gravel, and other materials.
According to the Silent Dangers of Quarrying published by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (Israel, 2001), while quarrying is important, it is also a major natural resource extractive sector that causes significant environmental problems. In mountain quarrying, the activity results in the scraping of the upland topsoil and vegetation and the destruction of the aesthetic value of the quarried area. River quarrying, on the other hand, leads to the uneven deepening of the riverbeds and the destruction of the riverbanks.
Both types of quarrying further cause soil erosion, pollution, siltation, and the flooding of downstream bodies and areas. In addition to these, quarrying operations produce dust along their transportation routes and noise pollution in quarry sites, much to the detriment of the affected population.
An operator is informed of all these considerations during his permit application. Furthermore, in any activity involving the use of natural resources, the law requires strict compliance with the progressive rehabilitation of the project. This includes tree planting activities in the area and the execution of the final mine rehabilitation plan when the project is eventually abandoned.
Environment needs active protection
The Capiz Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (CaPENRO) is precisely created for the protection of the environment. Since its creation in 2017, CaPENRO has been actively advocating for environmental conservation and enforcement of the law.
This, however, is not a duty that CaPENRO can do alone. Collective effort especially from all branches of the government is necessary if we are serious in achieving the ends that we desire.
Sadly, even those expected to understand the spirit of the law which prohibits illegal quarrying are defending and justifying a blatant violation of our environmental law.
Allowing our LGUs to freely and mindlessly conduct quarry activities, even for public use, should never be the norm. Road maintenance, for example, has been recognized as a significant project of the government, which is why a huge portion of the annual budget is specifically earmarked and allocated for this purpose.
Despite this, the law recognizes that there might be instances wherein no fund is allocated for the maintenance of barangay roads, which is why provisions were made to grant gratuitous and special permits. This, however, should only be treated as an exception. With the due allocation of public funds for road maintenance and infrastructure projects, the LGU should primarily opt to buy materials and quarry resources from authorized and registered permit holders to supply its needs.
Unregulated quarrying, when conducted by a government entity, is a form of corruption.
Once we allow an LGU to operate extraction activities without undergoing the necessary processes, there will be no means for us to verify if indeed, no fund was allocated for the project, nor can we monitor if it was exclusively used for the declared public purpose.
No matter how noble we think the purpose of a project is, we must always consider its possible effects on the environment. Environmental safeguards and rehabilitation measures are set with the help of the concerned National Government Agencies like the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the Environment Management Bureau in deliberating whether an application should be granted or not.
Further, contrary to allegations, the recent apprehension of the LGU concerned is not motivated by any political agenda. LGUs should know what is prohibited under the law to set an example to their citizens.
Ignorance of the law is never an excuse.
Government entities not exempt from law
The argument that an LGU is excused from apprehension is misplaced because no such exemption was extended by law. In fact, there are several instances in the country wherein LGUs were apprehended for its illegal conduct. For example, an illegal quarry operation was stopped in Coron, Palawan when extraction activities were made for a reclamation project and several infrastructure projects of the LGU (see https://palawan-news.com/denr-stops-illegal-quarry-operations-in-coron-mountain/).
We call on the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) to support us in the implementation of the law which it enacted itself. If it finds any flaw in the law, CaPENRO is with them in exploring the possibility of proposing amendments for the improvement of the Ordinance.
We have lauded the SP for passing an ordinance for the imposition of a moratorium on large-scale mining because we stand with them in the belief that environmental protection is of utmost importance (see https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=438115210139486&id=117260868891590&sfnsn=mo). Now, we once again call for its assistance to side with the environment against a clear violation of the law.
A wrong should never be justified by the law-making body itself.
If we hold a private person liable for his prohibited act, that’s more reason to demand compliance and accountability from our government bodies, from whom a higher degree of diligence is expected. Public office is a public trust (Section 1, Article 11 of the Constitution). In the discharge of duties, a public officer is to use that prudence, caution, and attention which careful persons use in the management of their affairs.
We do not want to worsen an already bad environmental situation by tolerating violations on quarrying rules such as the gathering of aggregates in riverbanks, hauling more volume than what is sustainable, and extending quarrying operations into environmentally sensitive sites. Hence, the need for regulation and the adoption of environmentally sound practices.
You should never raise your “I am an environmentalist card” only when it is convenient to serve your interests. Now, more than ever, the environment needs you.
Capiz is a province rich in natural resources. From the marine ecosystem in our vast sea and coastal communities to the diverse flora and fauna in our mountains and forest cover, Capiz is a beauty of its own. Let’s keep it that way.*