Bulan’s “Blood” Sand

 

     Weeks ago, incessant rains claim at least 20 lives and left over a thousand families homeless in Bulan’s adjacent towns of Magallanes and Juban as well as barangay San Roque, Bulusan. A great mass of earth denuded by loggers (I’m not sure if they are “illegal” loggers since both the laws of rebel NPA and infidel PNP tolerate rape of our forests) collapsed and buried the Barangays of Incarisan in Magallanes, and certain barangays of Juban.

 

    In Bulan, barangays San Vicente and Managa-naga, flood waters rose to a record high of at least 4 feet deep. The “elite” Immaculate Conception subdivision (built along historic Banuang Daan River) was practically underwater when the continuous rains of February rose to a little less than 5 feet deep eroding the river bank together with the several houses built alongside.

 

    The same was true with the over-rated Villa Las Palmas subdivision which looked like a lagoon after heavy rains poured over the province. The Villa Las Palmas experience, however, was not a surprise to many. The area is a natural catch-basin for Sta. Remedios rainwaters and the nearby Calomagon and San Juan highlands. Many even wondered why this place was converted into subdivision when even on ordinary days the area is easily flooded due to its low location.

 

    Heaven forbid! But Bulan may just be another disaster-stricken town at the rate our coastline is being shaved-off of our precious margaha sand.

 

    Incidentally, Fr. Josefino Bayto Chavenia or Fr. Chubby (pronounced “Choo-by”)’s first death anniversary was remembered last March 9, 2008. That day fell on a Sunday the Gospel of which is about death and resurrection – a coincidence that seemed to tell us what Fr. Chubby died for: standing up for what is right even if it meant losing his life.

 

    Fr. Chubby knew he has a failing heart. But this he kept from those he loves. Having a heart ailment for years already, he did not talk about it. It did not even stop him from joining, nay leading, his parishioners to a “heart-straining” rally to protest the reopening of the Lafayette Mining operations in Rapu-Rapu, Albay.

 

    That year, March 9, 2007, Fr. Chubby braved the long march around Sorsogon’s capital. He marched with the farmers, the poor, the lay people and Sorsogon’s professionals. Sadly though, along with Fr. Chubby’s death so was Sorsogon’s mass actions against what ails our country today.

 

    Corruption in grand scale abounds. Government leaders with no shame at all parade their loot as though they’ve won it from a lottery. Calls for reform or resignation are continuously ignored.

 

    Under the scorching heat of last year’s summer sun Father Chubby offered his life – to save our environment from the pillage of greed-driven individuals and their equally greedy partners in government.

 

    He heeded his bishop’s call to stage a mass action in Sorsogon to protest the ongoing mining by foreign nationals in the island of Rapu-Rapu in Albay. Little did Fr. Chubby know, however, that a much the same pillage of our environment is happening in his own hometown of Bulan.

 

    Yes, this quiet little town of Bulan is being shipped to China by its very own Papay and Mamay!

 

    And it happened just when everybody thinks Guiming De Castro bought the town already, because of his “rumalayas na kamo sa Bulan caper”.

 

    Well, we were all wrong. Guiming and Rosa de Castro are actually selling Bulan, tons by tons – at the expense of our very own safety.

 

    In late 2006, ALEXANDRA MINING VENTURES purportedly secured an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to engage in quarrying of magnetite sand along the northern coastal barangays of Bulan, one of which is barangay Namo.

 

    In one of its operations last year, Alexandra Mining shipped a total of 2,907 metric tons to Jingtang Gang, China on board M.V. “Pine Pia” and the cargo is consigned to one Wong Tai General Merchandize Ltd. of Wan Hai, Hong Kong.

 

    Sorsogonnews checked the credentials of Alexandra Mining and found it to be holding office at No. 39 Carmel Subdivision, Project 6, Quezon City and, just like Geming’s supposed contractor of the bus terminal, Alexandra Mining is, conveniently, a “single proprietorship” owned by one CESAR ESTAYAN DETERA.

 

    Magnetite sand is commonly known in Bulan as margaha. The beaches of Pon-od, Inararan up to Danao are covered by this magnetic sand, believed to have been carried by the waves to the shorelines from the sea. Those of us who studied grade school in Bulan must have participated in a science experiment where we discovered margaha’s magnetic qualities. Remember the speckles of margaha “dancing” on top of a sheet of paper as magnet is moved from corner to corner of the paper?

 

    Articles in the web place the selling price of margaha in Nevada, U.S.A., ranges from $40 to $52 per kilo or Php.1,600 to Php.2,080 per kilo. If you care to compute how much 2,907 metric tons of margaha cost, roughly, it would be P6M. Considering that Alexandra Mining ships margaha to China on the average of 3,000 metric tons per quarter, Bulan would have had earned millions of pesos, too, from fees and taxes levied and assessed from Alexandra Mining.

 

    But there’s the rub!

 

    Barangay Namo does not receive a single centavo from Alexandra’s margaha quarrying. The quarry operators even exploit barangay folks and children by paying them a measly pay of 80 centavos for every kilo of black sand they haul from the shorelines to Alexadra’s dump site, some 300 meters away.

 

     Sorsogonnews also managed to photograph the quarry site and saw that most of Bulan’s heavy equipment service Alexandra Mining’s operation from day one to this day. Had the rental for these equipment, like the backhoe in the picture, been properly charged and collected, Bulan’s coffers would have been enriched by at least P720,000 per quarter.

 

 

 

     A check made with Bulan’s 2008 Annual Budget, however, reveal no such income from an obviously profitable undertaking. In 2006 (the year Alexandra Mining started its operation in Bulan), the municipality of Bulan, under the auspices of Rosa De Castro, reported a measly sum of P479.00 pesos as taxes collected from “sand, gravel and other quarry products”.

    In Rosa’s approved annual budget this year (2008) income estimate for quarrying is unimaginably placed at P20,000 only –  a stark contrast to the annual 24 million pesos Alexandra Mining is profiting from margaha! Pira na milyon an nawawara sa taxes and fees na dapat bayadan san paghakot san margaha pakadto sa China!

    Since Bulan’s heavy equipment are being used, it is also surprising that Bulan has no income estimates for its rentals. Or is it just a scheme to keep us in the dark as to the real income of our municipal government so they can go on with their unhampered misuse of the people’s money?  

    Curiously, Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Diocese of Sorsogon and most of the Sorsogon clergymen who decried the La Fayette Mining in Rapu-Rapu, Albay are all quiet as to this latest environmental fiasco. Bishop Bastes, who practically pushed Fr. Chubby to death with his ephemeral environmental concerns, has suddenly fell deaf and dumb to what’s happening in his Diocese. Or, to say the least, to what Fr. Josefino Chavenia has died for!

    Their eerie silence is truly disturbing, reminiscent of a decadent society lending credence to allegations of bribery reaching the portals of the temple. 

    With neither drums nor trumpets, Fr. Chubby did his “good sheperd” job. He offered his life if only to save his flock from environmental disaster. I just hope he did not die in vain or we will all be heading to eternal damnation. The least we could do now is to “expose society’s wounds to the light” so the culprits may be brought to justice.

     Or margaha could just be Bulan’s “blood” sand.