Ex-DENR chief Defensor’s quarry blamed for floods

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Former environment secretary Mike Defensor might wish to react. Mainstream and social media are blaming his hillside quarry for last month’s destructive floods in east Metro Manila and suburbs.

Defensor’s quarry is in the Marikina Watershed, Rodriguez, Rizal. Majestic Earth Core Ventures Inc. is the largest of 16 quarries there. As conservation zones, watersheds are off-limits to woodcutters, miners and dwellers. With Marikina Watershed denuded, typhoon waters and mud cascaded down the slopes unimpeded.

Folk in the valley below want answers. Loved ones perished in the flash floods. Homes were deluged with muck and water up to second floors. Evacuating to rooftops, residents endured cold winds and hunger till the storm subsided. Shops, cars, appliances, cookware, clothes were lost. Victims are contemplating multibillion-peso damages.

Congress is planning inquiries on why the great flood caused by 2009’s Storm Ondoy recurred. Defensor is a party-list congressman, representing Anakalusugan. Netizens are decrying abuse of power. Trending online are photos of the denudation and flooded communities.

Defensor is chairman and president of Majestic. The firm quarries and markets aggregates, sand and gravel in Barangay San Rafael, Rodriguez. It also operates a crushing plant on-site, Majestic’s website states. The quarry output is used in construction. Defensor headed the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources from August 2004 to February 2006.

A successor at DENR a decade later, Gina Lopez continually warned against watershed deforestation. An aerial inspection of Marikina Watershed in September 2017 distressed her. Showing images of bald hillsides and gaping excavations, she said: “It is important that we rehabilitate this watershed because it is the first line of defense of Marikina, Quezon City, Antipolo, Pasig, Cainta, San Mateo against rainwater surging from the uplands of Luzon.”

Miners opposed Lopez’s closure of 73 destructive extractions. Quarry men claimed that the watersheds she was seeking to rehab were not even officially declared as such, so they could not be evicted. Lopez countered that “a watershed is a watershed, and no law can make or unmake it as such.”

Congress refused to confirm Lopez’s appointment as DENR chief. Still she insisted: “As long as there is quarrying and Marikina Watershed is denuded, the Pasig River waters will be brown and will become more and more shallow. It will cause flooding in Metro Manila. It is imperative that the Marikina Watershed is reforested.”

Lopez left the Cabinet. She succumbed to cancer in August 2019.

She was the eldest of the second generation of the Lopezes who controlled giant broadcaster ABS-CBN. Defensor led its disenfranchisement last July.

Defensor is being contrasted to Lopez. His company profile states: “Majestic is a corporation existing under Philippine laws engaged primarily in quarrying,” the website says. “The company is committed to apply only the best practices in quarrying, always taking into consideration the environment and community. Although the company was only established in 2012, it is already the grantee of various Operating Agreements in several quarry sites in the Rizal area.”

Aside from Rodriguez, Majestic has other extractions. It “is constructing another mobile crushing plant in Barangay San Joaquin, Calbayog City, Western Samar, while conducting exploration work for aggregate resources.”

Defensor is also CEO of Pax Libera Mining Inc. Controversies surround its operations in Bukidnon. As Cabinet member under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he was publicized as lead man of mining firms Nihao and Geograce. The two tied up with a Chinese miner in Zambales. People in that province denounced the many mines that leveled their mountains, polluted the air, choked the rivers, despoiled food sources and ruined their health.

Defensor also signed as witness in the grant to ZTE International Corp. of gold mining rights in Mount Diwalwal and North Davao, Mindanao. Along with ZTE’s national broadband network bribery scandal, the mining grant was investigated at the Senate. The Constitution forbids foreigners from natural resource extraction, except in financial or technical assistance.

President Rody Duterte has blamed recent deadly floods on illegal logging and mining, including quarries. DENR has been tasked to investigate in Cagayan Valley, Albay in Bicol and Marikina Valley.

Forest denudation by illegal loggers in the Cordillera Range caused the Cagayan floods, DENR U-Sec. Jonas Leones told Sapol-DWIZ Saturday. Slash-and-burn corn farming in the Sierra Madre range contributed too.

People in Albay blamed on 106 quarries the lahar slides from Mayon Volcano. Homes were destroyed in Guinobatan, Ligao City, Camalig, Daraga, Tiwi, Tabaco, Malilipot and Legaspi City. Fifteen quarries were suspended, nine for operating outside their concessions and six for expired permits, Leones said.

Defensor’s quarry area of 200 hectares is supposedly too small to have caused the great flood. Leones said unplanned development is more to blame.

*      *      *

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