SAN FELIPE, Zambales: Nine Chinese and one Indonesian crew from five vessels involved in desilting and dredging operations at the mouth of Santo Tomas River in this province were arrested on Saturday, according to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
NBI agents, along with personnel from the Bureau of Immigration, Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Environmental Management Bureau, Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), earlier boarded and inspected the vessels docked near Maculcol Bridge separating San Felipe and San Narciso towns.
The arrested foreigners were identified as Zhining Tang, Liao Nantu, Yichang Lin, Zhibin Xu, Jingwei Chen, Hongming Zhou, Wen Haihu, Yong Wang and Tang Peilong, all Chinese, and Indonesian Afrizon Hary.
According to the NBI, all 10 are facing charges of violation of Section 103 (theft of minerals) under Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Vessels used in the operations include a dredging machine onboard a tugboat that sucks sand and discharges it onto a second ship, a barge that transports the loaded sand onto a bigger vessel.
This bigger boat then transports the sand to Singapore reportedly to be used in reclamation projects.
Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso was quoted earlier in the media explaining the foreigners were supervising dredging operation at the mouth of Santo Tomas River collecting sand and lahar deposits (pyroclastic materials) discharged by Mount Pinatubo when it erupted in 1991.
The governor said the arrested crew were helping the local government and the DPWH to declog the rivers without spending millions of pesos from government funds.
According to Deloso, more than six billion metric tons of pyroclastic materials or lahar are still clogging and silting major river systems of Zambales, particularly the rivers of Bucao, Maloma and Santo Tomas.
He was quoted as saying that these rivers’ levels are now higher than the levels of the adjacent communities.
The NBI said the dredging and desilting operations lack necessary permits from government agencies.
Some residents here also allege the dredging and desilting work is just a front and also being loaded is black sand or magnetic sand.
The Manila Times tried to get an official statement from Deloso but was unable to get a reply as of press time.
Sources at the capitol who are close to Deloso told this paper that the provincial government stands to earn P20 per metric ton of sand and this revenue will go to enhancement of the environment of the province.
A source said the operation has the necessary permits, including endorsements from respective local government units.
“Even the mayors gave their endorsements. If not, the operation will be blocked by San Felipe town,” the source from Iba town said.
The source added that there are simultaneous dredging and desilting operations ongoing in Bucao River by another company.
A source at the DENR said local government units have jurisdiction on sanctioning sand and gravel operations.