Pangasinan gov to face graft cases over black sand mining

MANILA, Phillippines – The popular governor of Pangasinan province is set to face two graft cases before the Sandiganbayan over black sand mining operations in the capital town Lingayen.

The operations led to an estimated P10.7 million loss to the government.

In a joint resolution announced Tuesday, October 21, the Environmental Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Governor Amado Espino, his administrator Rafael Baraan, as well as Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Incorporated representatives Cynthia Camara and Lolita Bolayog.

State investigation revealed that Alexandra Mining is not a registered contractor with the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board. The local government granted a Small Scale Mining Permit (SSMP) to the firm on June 29, 2011.

The gulf of Lingayen, the town where the mining operation was based, is "an environmentally critical area" by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1258 issued in 1998.

The scope of the protected area covers barangays Estanza, Malimpuec, Capandanan, and Sabangan. Sabangan was the pilot area of the negotiated contract for soil remediation activities between the local government and Alexandra.

The area is part of a 184-hectare reserve meant for "eco-tourism and other sustainable development activities and projects."

Espino eyed an eco-tourism complex with two 18-hole golf courses at par with international standards in the area, developing a plan for the site in June 2007 when he assumed office.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales slammed Espino's "unlawful magnetite extraction activities in favor of an unqualified contractor/mining company."

She added that Espino's "precipitate and irregular issuance" of the "export permit to China" over the environmentally-damaging undertaking led to the government losing "minerals in the conservative amount of P10.7 million."

The governor said he will appeal the findings of the Environmental Ombudsman, revived last May 2012 to handle cases against erring public officials for violation of environmental laws.

The office is currently headed by Deputy Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera.  

Winning by a landslide during the 2010 polls, Espino is on his third term as Pangasinan governor. A slew of charges against him – including the ones now approved to be filed in court – came as the 2010 election season loomed.

He was probed over the illegal numbers game jueteng within his province. He also faced a murder complaint for the death of Infanta Mayor Ruperto Martinez, until the key witness, for reasons unexplained, left government custody and publicly recanted his statement.

Others charged

Over the black sand mining operations, a graft case is also set to be filed against Pangasinan Housing and Urban Development Coordinating officer Alvin Bigay, Alexandra Mining directors Cesar Detera, Edwin Alcazar, Denise Ann Sia Kho Po, Annlyn Detera, Glenn Subia and Emiliano Buenavista and Michael Ramirez, as well as Xypher Builders Incorporated representatives Gina Alcazar and Avery Pujol.

Baraan and Bigay were likewise ordered dismissed from public service for being administratively liable for grave misconduct. They can no longer be re-employed in government, with their civil service eligibility cancelled and retirement benefits forfeited.

Baraan had issued a notice of cancellation of Alexandra Mining's SSMP and ordered the firm to vacate the area 3 weeks after its permit was granted.

A different contract replaced the removal of the metallic materials from the sand pile in the site, this time with Xypher Builders.

The defendants can still question the Ombudsman resolution. Their cases are headed to court in the absence of their appeal within the prescribed period or when their motions for reconsiderations are junked at the Ombudsman level.

On the other hand, the Environmental Ombudsman dismissed the complaints against Lingayen Mayor Ernesto Castañeda Jr, Barangay Sabangan chairman Hector Fabiana, Barangay Estanza chairman Mario Navarro, Barangay Malimpuec chairman Delfin Velasco, and provincial consultant Eric Acuña for lack of merit. – Rappler.com