FRENCH firm Lafarge Republic Inc. (LRI), a giant in the construction industry, plans to cut down nearly 6,500 trees in Angono town in Rizal province to make way for the expansion of its quarry operation, a move which local leaders and residents fear could have dire environmental consequences.
Concerned Angono residents interviewed by The Manila Times consider the plan to cut trees as an “imminent threat” to their safety and the environment since Angono is considered to be a catchbasin for upstream water.
“Pollution, siltation and heavy flooding will be the outcome of this action. Only Mayor Gerry [Calderon] and his council can stop this because they will be the ones to either approve it or not,” said “Ma’am Engke,” a high school teacher.
The Times tried to reach Calderon for comment but his assistant said he was in the middle of an important meeting. Text messages sent to him since Saturday went unanswered.
Richard Gappi, Community Affairs Assistant Officer and the president of the municipal hall’s employees union, confirmed the plan and said that they were disseminating an online petition to stop the uprooting of various types of plants in the country’s “art capital.”
Angono is the birthplace of two national artists—Lucio San Pedro for music, and Carlos “Botong” Francisco for fine arts.
Gappi, who is also the editor of online news sites Rizalhenyo and angonorizalnewsonline, said the mining company asked permission from the local government to fell 6,469 trees.
In an article he posted on Rizalhenyo, Gappi said the trees belong to 21 types of flora found in the mountain of Angono, which is part of the quarry site of Batong Angono Aggregates Corporation (BAAC).
According to Gappi, the mining officials also plan to put up a “green belt,” which will serve as a buffer zone. A massive tree planting will also be done in the peripheries “to counter possible adverse effects once the trees are uprooted.”
People close to Calderon said the mayor vowed to consult his constituents before acting on BAAC’s request. BAAC is located in Don Mariano Subdivision, Barangay San Isidro. It manages Lafarge’s aggregates operations.
On September 24, Calderon and Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer Emilnor Pasion met with Lafarge officials led by BAAC technical projects manager Jovencio Layug and the company’s vice-president for operation, a Frenchman whose name was withheld in deference to the mining company’s policy.
The local officials and Lafarge executives also inspected the site, a large tract of land between Barangay San Isidro and Mahabang Parang, a village which runs along the boundary of Angono and Antipolo City that previously saw deadly landslides such as the Cherry Hills tragedy more than a decade ago.
“In 2010, the Lafarge aggregates business had nearly 579 quarries in operation around the world selling over 190 million tons of aggregates and employing more than 20,000 people together with its concrete business,” Gappi said.
BAAC has been a part of the Lafarge Group since June 2008.
In May 2013, Lafarge President Renato Sunico said the company saw net income in the first quarter increase by 35 percent year-on-year to P1 billion. Sales jumped 21 percent to P5.85 billion from P4.83 billion, on higher volumes and average selling price.
Gappi said that in his hometown, BAAC employs 108 people and deals with 70 contractors.
The company, which preceded the Concrete Aggregates Corporation, pays between P1.2 million to P1.5 million taxes annually, the highest among business taxpayers in this 1st class municipality in 2012.
Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Raymundo Crisostomo told The Manila Times on Saturday that LRI’s application for environmental compliance certificate (ECC), which was submitted only last Friday, needed to be studied. He added that it may take them to week to study the request.
”The area is subject for inspection and the trees have to be inventoried,” Crisostomo said.
He confirmed that the tree-cutting would be for the purpose of mining for materials used to produce cement.
“As soon as they are given a permit, we will direct them to replace every tree they cut, with 50 seedlings,” he said.
Seedlings of indigenous trees like narra would be planted to replace the affected trees.
Meanwhile, Gappi said most Angono residents were critical of the mining company’s operation and that the felling of thousands of trees is sure to face strong opposition.
He said the quarrying is blamed for the pollution and siltation of the Angono river which usually overflows during heavy rains and causes massive floods.
But officials of the mining company, according to Gappi, blame other factors for the severe flooding in Angono.
Being a low-lying area, Angono serves as the natural catch basin for the run-off from the mountains of Antipolo, Teresa, Montalban and San Mateo all in Rizal.
Another factor, mining officials said, are the illegal structures along the river that block the flow of water to the Laguna de Bay.
Mining in Angono started in the 1960s in areas privately owned by the Ortigas clan. Since then, the Angono river has been heavily silted.
Jojo Javier, reacting to the LRI’s plan, said people should spearhead a petition “barring Lafarge and BAAC to cut those 6,000 plus trees.”
“With the onslaught of floods and other calamities, people should join forces in taking care of our nature rather than destroying it,” he said.
Patricia Blancaflor, a resident, said the plan would lead to serious problems not only in Angono but in nearby towns along the bay.
“We must not allow the uprooting of that number of trees. The problem of floods in Angono will only worsen. It is true that there are a number of reasons for floodings in our town. Why add more problems?” Blancaflor asked.
“The denudation of our forests is the main cause of floods and the cutting down of more trees will aggravate it. The additional income that would be derived from this by the local government will not compensate for the damage it will cause to the people. Angono has always been a catchbasin but there was no floods then. Floods began when Concrete Aggregates began operation. Let’s think of our people’s welfare first” she said.
Last year, the DENR listed Angono as among the towns in Rizal that are highly susceptible to floods and landslides.
DENR-Region 4-A Executive Director Reynulfo Juan said geohazard maps were produced and made available by the regional office’s Decision Support Systems Office (DSSO) in Calamba City and at the office of the Regional Director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Region 4-A (MGB-Calabarzon) in Manila that show these “danger areas.”
Besides Angono, also highly susceptible to floods are San Mateo, Cainta, Taytay, Binangonan, Cardona, Morong, Baras, Tanay, and Antipolo. Areas prone to landslides, meanwhile, include Antipolo City, Taytay, Rodriguez, San Mateo, Angono, Binangonan, Cardona, Morong, Baras, Majayjay, Tanay, Pililia and Jalajala.
Last August this year, thousands of families in at least two lakeshore villages in Angono were evacuated to higher ground during torrential monsoon rains and waited for weeks before they could return to their respective homes.
The villages of Kalayaan and San Vicente, home to 1,367 families, were inundated when Laguna Lake swelled after heavy rains.
WITH REPORT FROM GHIO ONG