DIPOLOG CITY, Zamboanga del Norte--Amid the unabated destruction of the famed pebbles resources in this province, a Church-based environmental group arrived here on Tuesday in a nationwide caravan called “Salakyag (Sama-samang lakad, sakay at lakad) para sa sangnilikha” to push for heightened environmental protection.
Yolly Esguerra, the caravan lead convenor, told the Philippine News Agency that the march started in Zamboanga City and aims to end in Manila where they will seek a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.
Esguerra said the caravan hopes to gather at least a million signatures that will be presented together with their demands to Pres. Duterte and Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu on June 5, which is also the “World Environment Day.”
“We call on the government to initiate measures to protect the most vulnerable groups from the impacts of natural disasters and man-made induced destruction,” Esguerra said, “( and) for lawmakers to pass the Green Bills, Alternative Mineral Management Bill, National Land Use Act, Forest Resources Bill…and for the justice system and security sectors to implement the laws and hold the big corporations accountable of their environmental crimes.”
The caravan was met by volunteers from this province, mainly Church-based groups, some of whom joined the caravan to their next stop in Iligan City.
Diomedes Capala, president of St. Isidore de Labrador Parish Pastoral Council in the nearby Gutalac town, told Philippine News Agency he joined the caravan because he wanted high government officials to know about the “massive extraction” of pebbles in Gutalac’s Barangay Tipan continued unabated.
“Our barangay’s beach is now lost, the waves are now reaching the foot of the mountain, many houses were destroyed or have to be relocated, and yet our local government officials are not doing anything to stop the pebbles extraction,” Capala said.
He blamed former Gutalac town Councilor Justin Quimbo and his father, Eddie, the mayor of neighboring Municipality of Labason, of protecting the “massive” and “destructive” extraction of pebbles.
Capala said that barges, big bancas, trucks and even the payloader owned by the Municipal Government of Gutalac were used in the extraction and hauling of pebbles.
“Tons of pebbles are sent to Labason for drying at the bodega of Nelson Quimbo (brother of Mayor Eddie Quimbo), and then transported to Dipolog, to the financer (buyer Godofredo) Pedoy Uy,” Capala said.
Uy is the elder brother of Governor Roberto Y. Uy while Eddie and Nelson Quimbo are brothers of Pedoy Uy’s wife.
Capala added that pebbles extraction dates back to the time of then governor and 3rd district Rep. Isagani Amatong in late 1990s, and continued during the administration of then governor Rolando Yebes and former 3rd district Congressman Cesar Jalosjos.
“But it was better before because it was not massive and destructive, and Tipan residents earned by picking pebbles and our barangay and municipality and the province earned from taxes,” Capala stressed.
But since 2013, Capala said everything changed with the entry of the Uys and Quimbos: “heavy equipment is used, depriving residents of income and they don’t pay taxes.”
Christopher Babararan, Technical Services Division chief of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, told Philippine News Agency that the law grants handpicking as a form of extraction of pebbles to give the residents livelihood.
“But we never allow the use of heavy equipment,” said Babaran, who however did not explain why massive extraction of pebbles continue to happen.
The Philippine News Agency tried on Wednesday but failed to reach the mayor of Labason for comment. A message was even sent to the mayor through the social media but there was no reply as of posting time.
Gov. Uy, whose vacation leave lapsed two weeks ago, has not yet reported to his office. (PNA)