THE Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (blue ribbon committee) will conduct its first investigation next week of “treacherous” excavations in Zambales province and smuggling of soil and rocks used to build Chinese islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, the blue ribbon committee will look into destructive mining operations and alleged shipping of the rocks and soil to be used by China for reclaiming contested islands in the South China Sea.
It was Sen. Panfilo Lacson who filed Senate Resolution 92, asking the chamber to probe in aid of legislation the allegedly exploitative activities that harm the environment and pose serious threats to national security to the prejudice of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“[The investigation has] the end in view of adopting remedial measures to strengthen our environmental protection and conservation laws and address the possible breach of our national security,” Lacson said.
In his resolution, he cited reports of mining activities practically flattening mountains and damaging a large area of forested highlands in Santa Cruz town in Zambales.
He also cited reports quoting Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso, who said soil and rocks taken from these areas were “shipped, dumped and used to reclaim almost 3,500 hectares of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, which caused massive, unspeakable damage to the marine environment therein.”
“There is a need to account for the personalities behind [these]highly anomalous, illegal and treacherous acts that tend not only to destroy our environment, but also make a mockery of our laws to the prejudice of the Filipino people and constitute a possible breach of our national security,” Lacson said.
Mining activities in the province, he noted, had caused unprecedented damage and has affected not only the environment but also residents living near large-scale mining sites.
As proof, Lacson further cited an order of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau last July 2014 suspending four firms for practicing unsystematic strip-mining methods in their nickel mining operations, causing siltation and generating dust.
In 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict former Zambales governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. for graft, usurpation of government functions and mineral theft in connection with issuance of small-scale mining permits to a mining firm that allowed the illegal hauling of minerals from the province in 2011.
The blue ribbon committee will be joined by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources headed by Sen. Cynthia Villar in the hearing on August 31.