Game changers for the environment

Published February 4, 2021, 6:00 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

Rio Grande de Cagayan is the longest and largest river in the Philippines. Popularly known as the Cagayan River, its total length is 505 kilometers traversing the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino, and Nueva Viscaya.

For several decades now, Region 2 or the Cagayan Valley region ,has been suffering from floods. Late last year, Isabela and Cagayan were both devastated after the onslaught of two succeeding super-typhoons when massive volumes of rainwater were released from Magat Dam straddling the boundaries of three provinces. The dam drains down to the Cagayan River and its tributaries, which have been heavily silted as a result.

The government has identified dredging as the solution to this perennial problem. Earlier this week, the Cagayan River Rehabilitation Project (CRRP) was launched during the 25th World Wetlands Day to once and for all address the ever-growing deluge in that part of northeastern Luzon.

Spearheading the CRRP is the Build Back Better Task Force (BBBTF) led by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu along with Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar. Last Feb. 2, they were joined by three other Cabinet members at the ceremonial start of the river rehabilitation in the town of Lal-lo, Cagayan.

DENR Regional Director Gwendolyn Bambalan said a total of 19 sandbars have been pinpointed by the BBBTF, of which three are the priority sites for immediate dredging as they obstruct the flow of floodwater to the Aparri Delta and ultimately to the Babuyan Channel as the final destination.

CRRP is the pilot implementation of a landmark game-changing river restoration policy for the environment and river ecosystem protection while undertaking flood control dredging. It is seen to be replicated across other river systems in the Philippines as a pro-forma strategy in river protection and rehabilitation.

Another issue that can be resolved by CRRP involves illegal black sand mining. It may be recalled that since 2019, local dredger Pacific Offshore Exploration Inc. has been the subject of calls for investigation by Congress for its alleged black sand mining activities in the Cagayan River together with its Mainland Chinese partner, Zhong Hai Gravel Group Ltd.

Zhong Hai is the owner of a dredging vessel that has been cited for illegal and unauthorized presence in Philippine waters more than one year after it was cleared to leave the country. Last week, joint operatives from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) aboard BRP Panglao seized the undocumented MV Zhonhai 68 around 13 kilometers off Orion Point in Bataan province.

PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo confirmed that Zhonhai 68 is a Chinese dredging ship flying the flag of Sierra Leone in West Africa. The BOC found out that in 2018, a departure clearance had been issued to the dredger by its customs field office in the town of Aparri, Cagayan. Later, the Aparri municipal council approved a resolution asking the DENR to issue a cease-and-desist order against Pacific Offshore for its involvement in the extraction of black sand from the Cagayan River for export.

On record, the only mining activity allowed by the DENR in Cagayan province is the offshore magnetite mining being conducted by JDVC Resources, a subsidiary of Philippine Stock Exchange-listed Apollo Global Capital.

As the first large-scale deep-sea mining firm in the country, JDVC has secured environmental, mining, and social permits as well as licenses, certifications, and satisfactory community acceptance from neighboring local government units and communities. Its exploration and extraction activities will start this month within its almost 1,900 hectares of mining tenement located 14 kilometers offshore from the municipality of Gonzaga, Cagayan.

LPG INDUSTRY LEADER

In nearby Isabela province, the Ty family is recognized as a trailblazer in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) industry. Former Congressman Arnel Ty established South Pacific Inc. (SPI) in 2015 and the fledgling company gradually strengthened its market share by putting up two terminals in Luzon and one in the Visayas.

As of the third quarter last year, SPI has become the second largest firm in the Philippine LPG sector after growing 4.2% year-on-year and overtaking oil giant Petron Corp. in the rankings.

According to SPI President Iñigo Golingay Jr., the company’s volume and sales levels soared 24% and 27%, respectively, in 2020. Gross earnings increased by 11% while net income rose 19% over the 2019 figures despite the pandemic. He attributed SPI’s phenomenal growth to its household retail client base, in contrast to other industry players who relied on industrial and commercial accounts – most of which were shut down during the first months of the COVID-19 crisis.

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