Philippines: Buguey and Gonzaga Along Coastal Areas of Cagayan Set to Dredge Their Rivers

The municipalities of Buguey and Gonzaga along the coastal areas of Cagayan are set to dredge their rivers this year amidst objections from cause-oriented groups.

With the issue on logging near dead, mining, or in this case dredging, has emerged as the top environmental concern today with nearly all stakeholders taking a slice of the publicity cake for whatever purpose it may serve them, a local editorial noted.

From among the coastal municipalities, the two towns seem to be winning the war as latest developments attest to such a scenario. In Buguey, the local government unit has signed an agreement with an unnamed firm to dredge the Buguey River, a 14-kilometer stretch of water rich in mineral and marine resources.

The memorandum of agreement earlier into by the parties will soon be provided to the public and other stakeholders if only to prove the transparency of the local government units.

Two years ago, residents of Buguey rallied behind the Social Action Center of the Sr. Ann Parish Church when news reached them that foreign nationals have started allegedly to mine the shores of Paddaya, a barangay which borders the town of Aparri.

Protesters claimed that any dredging activity along the Cagayan River and its tributaries may cause erosion which can lead to flooding. They added that endemic species within these areas may likewise be threatened.

On the contrary, there has never been any report on flooding as a result of dredging and that species are even enhanced when the dredged material is used as a beach nourishment.

Buguey Mayor Licerio Antiporda III said the memorandum of agreement is a result of four years of studies separately conducted along the Buguey River by research groups including a Canadian Executive Services Organization, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and other foreign and local-based.

He said the river needed dredging as early as the 1990s but the municipality had to wait for studies to support the plan of the present administration to finally save the river from siltation.

Only last year, even barangays located along the national highway and those on higher areas experienced flooding as the siltation along the river prevents the regular flow of water from creeks to the main body of the Buguey River.

Listed by the United Nations as a wasteland of international importance during the Ramsar, Iran Convention in 1998, Mayor Antiporda said that this just proved that the river has maintained its ecological balance despite protests from anti-mining groups contradicting scientific studies.

Siltation is the main problem within the river and pollution, cited one of those studies commissioned by the national government.

Antiporda said that under the agreement signed, the dredging company will conduct the activity at no expense to the LGU. The payment would come in the form of any material found on the dredged materials after processing.

This early, the LGU is on the process of convincing the firm to dispose the dredged materials to the beaches of the municipality for nourishment as suggested by researches and international studies.

“We have started to explain to the people the benefit of the project and would welcome any inquiry from any group to clarify issues on the plan,” the mayor said.

The earlier studies confirmed the existence of various elements in the Buguey River other than magnetite sands. The studies suggested these silts should be removed to maintain a balance of the elements and a balance of the ecology.

“We are transparent on this regard as we will provide the dredging firm a plan designed by the LGU on the dredging activity itself,” Mayor Antiporda said as he allayed fears the permit might be abused.

Under Article 46, Chapter 10 of the Cagayan Environment Code of 2005, the Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board shall regulate the mining, quarrying and utilization of mineral resources in the province as it shall adopt a framework from which the principles of sustainable development shall be integrated in decision-making processes involving minerals utilization.

Cagayan is approximately 900,270 hectares and constitutes about 3 percent of the total land area of the Philippines. It is crisscrossed by rivers and creeks with the Cagayan River as the largest.

The province has a total stretch of 570.5 kilometers from Sta. Margarita in Penablanca to Sta. Praxedes on its northwestern portion.

Among natural and mineral resources in Cagayan include limestone, gypsum, phosphate, sulfur, iron ore, magnetite sand, manganese, perlite and gold.

As early as 1995, the tourism council of Buguey has identified the Buguey Lagoon along the river as a potential area for tourism entrepreneurship. Various activities have been conducted in the area capped by the annual boat race during the town’s patronal fiesta and festival.

The mayor expects his constituents they will support the environment project once it commences.

Meanwhile, in Gonzaga town, the local government unit has endorsed to the provincial government a resolution which calls for the dredging of the Caroan River, a two-kilometer body of water which borders the municipality of Buguey.

The river has not been navigable the last few years due to heavy siltation according to Mayor Carlito Pentecostes.

“Everything is set but we have to identify a dredging firm to do business with us,” he said.

Earlier, the local government unit has already identified a mineral processing firm, the Yinyi Company based at Port Irene, Sta. Ana, Cagayan pending the identification of a dredging firm.

An agreement is expected to be signed between the LGU and Yinyi sometime next month.

However, the mayor admitted that just like the other coastal towns, the planned project is likewise opposed.

“We are going through the process legally and morally and there’s no reason why it should be thwarted. I am ready for any consequence of my action if only to bring about progress and development in this part of the province,” Pentecostes said.

He lamented that while the country is rich in natural resources, it has never been developed to the maximum. The Philippines is second in gold deposits worldwide, third in copper and fifth in overall mineral deposits.

Yet, of the 90 million hectares to be mined, only two percent is explored.

Gonzaga is one of the richest towns in Cagayan in terms of mineral deposits. However, magnetite sand is still considered the easiest to extract, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

The town started to prepare the residents on the project after its 25 barangay captains verbally told second district Congressman Jack Enrile of their support to mining in the area.

“Basta gusto ng tao rito, wala na akong magagawa (if the people want it, I can’t do otherwise). I am just Jack Enrile,: Pentecostes quoted the congressman as saying.

But the statement may have some political repercussions, according to some political observers.

Afterall, Enrile is known as anti-mining.

Majority of the environmentalists claimed such statement may set the stage for local government units to do a Pentecostes or an Antiporda who, despite protest actions, manage to convince the majority of their people to support the mining activity.

Notwithstanding all these brouhaha over the protection of the environment, Anton Carag, a water sports businessman and an advocate of the protection of the Cagayan River, has recommended to the Regional Development Cpuncil in 2008 the passage of a zoning policy for the segregation of areas for conservation, tourism, agriculture and industry.

“Buffer zones should be created and should focus on reforestation along river banks to address the run-off into the river of agricultural inputs,” he said.

As we go to the press, anti-mining advocates assured Cagayanos they continue to oppose any attempt of the government to conduct projects which they perceive to be destructive and anti-environment.

[mappress]

Source: PIA, July 7, 2011

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