Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has ordered the filing of graft and usurpation charges against Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane of Zambales over theft of minerals worth P211 million.
In a 32-page resolution, the Ombudsman ruled that Ebdane–a former secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways under the Arroyo administration–usurped the functions of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board by granting small-scale mining permits without authority to Geoking Asia Mining Corporation’s Weng Chen, Camilo Esico and three others.
These permits issued by Ebdane were then used by Zambales Mining Board head Romelino Gojo, Philippine National Police Provincial Director Francisco Santiago Jr. and the five Geoking Asia personalities to justify a violent takeover of Coto Mines Inc. in October 2011.
The takeover saw Gojo and his men dismantling security checkpoints, establishing their own outpost along the road en route to chromite stockpiles and threatening Coto Mines personnel with Gojo uttering, “Kung gusto ninyong magdemanda, idemanda ninyo si Governor Ebdane [If you want to file a case, then sue Governor Ebdane].”
Gojo and Geoking Asia’s Esico and Chen, among others, then hauled 12 trucks of chromite fines from Coto Mines in November 2011.
Furthermore, it was later discovered that a group of Chinese men also assisted Geoking Asia’s Chen in taking, hauling, transporting and shipping chromite fines.
Ebdane’s bonanza type of issuance of small-scale mining permits is in violation of People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991, which states that evaluation, negotiation and award of small-scale mining contracts should only be done by the Provincial or City Mining Regulatory Board.
The Ombudsman cited the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Fact-Finding Report, eyewitnesses’ account, photographs and video footage that showed that Geoking Asia does not own Coto Mines and that it is not within the Mining Board chief Gojo’s function to implement a small-scale mining permit.
Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibits public officials from causing any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.
The Philippine Mining Act punishes any person who steals minerals or ores or the products thereof from mines or mills or processing plants.