Environmental protection order sought against illegal dredging at Bucao River

Bucao River, Botolan, Zambales Photo: DSdeC (via Facebook)

Posted on September 28, 2021

OLONGAPO CITY – A beach farm resort owner has asked the Regional Trial Court in Iba, Zambales to bar the alleged illegal dredging activity at the mouth of Bucao River in Botolan town.

Philip Camara sought an Environmental Protection Order against the Environmental Compliance Certificates, permits and clearances issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Public Works and Highways, Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane, and Botolan Mayor Doris Maniquiz-Jeresano against the dredging.

In his complaint, Camara said that in March this year, he noticed the sea level advanced towards his beach property by about 10 meters.

A geodetic engineer he engaged later found out that a 12-meter portion of the beach front is gone and that the sea level abruptly moved forward.

Consequently, Camara learned that the ground water of his property became salty, and that a ground water test conducted by a government testing office confirmed this.

Immediately, Camara said he invited Mayor Maniquiz-Jeresano to his property and showed the receding coastline and the result of the ground water test, but according to him, the mayor just quipped that this is only due to climate change and the melting of the glaciers.

However, Dr. Fernando Siringan, a UP Professor and academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, in an online forum held on May 10, 2021 explained that while climate change contributes to the rise of sea waters, its actual increase is only by about 1 millimeter for every year.

Siringan added that the dredging activities opposite Bucao River may be a factor in the sudden rise of the local coastline.

The DENR Region 3, on May 26, 2020, had issued an ECC for the dredging of the western river basin of Mount Pinatubo and in the downstream portion of Bucao River in Botolan, and awarded the project to Chosen One Land Development Corp.

Relative to this, the DENR central office issued an Administrative Order on October 24, 2019, rationalizing dredging activities in the heavily silted river channels of Bucao in Botolan, Malona in San Felipe and Sto. Tomas river in San Marcelino.

The department cited the need to protect and properly manage the utilization of the sand and gravel in the province of Zambales to improve the water flows of its river systems and ensure the integrity of the various protective dikes and infrastructures, and thereby reduce risks to lives and properties.

Camara, however, said the contractor Chosen One was not dredging in the exclusive river dredging zone in the delta of Bucao River, but only about 100 to 400 meters from its mouth.

Camara said the DENR, DPWH and the Office of the Governor designated a dredging area in violation of Section 79 of the IRR of the 1995 Mining Act, DENR DAO No. 96-40, in allowing Chosen One to dredge outside of the legally allowed area in Bucao River and within 500 meters from the coastal area.

“But the magnetite sand is there at the mouth of Bucao River, so they are staying there. Our suspicion is that they have been dredging more magnetite sand than the lahar sand,” Camara said.

“Corporate dredging is meant to fulfill the demands in Asia for sand as reclamation, and the biggest demand is in Singapore because for the past five years, they have been expanding their land area by one third,” he explained.

Since the start of the dredging operation in December 2020 until March this year, Chosen One has so far taken out the equivalent of 1,048,480 metric tons of sand from the seabed opposite the Bucao River, Camara said.

“I see the need to dredge Bucao River to allow lahar sand to come down through it and prevent flooding in low-lying areas, but black sand mining is another thing. And you don’t extract sands from the bottom of the sea. Also, if we have to dredge, the community, and not big corporations must enjoy the fruits of the project,” he pointed out.

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