Lopez-owned firm denies it is quarrying in Batangas

Carolyn Bonquin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 01 2017 07:18 PM

MANILA - A construction and engineering firm that is part of the Lopez group of companies has denied that it is engaged in quarrying in a watershed in Batangas. 

First Balfour Inc. denied the allegations made by geologist Carlo Arcilla that it has ongoing quarrying operations in a watershed in Lobo, Batangas. 

During the March 8 Commission on Appointments hearing on Environment Sec. Gina Lopez's confirmation, Arcilla said that Lopez had a "conflict of interest" as First Balfour had been quarrying near a watershed in Lobo, even as Lopez ordered closure of MRL mining company in the town. 

Arcilla is director of University of the Philippines' National Institute of Geological Sciences and is opposing Lopez's appointment as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

First Balfour however disclosed that while it started to venture into the quarrying business last year under subsidiary Torre Verde, it had yet to get approval for its quarry permit. 

The company also clarified that its proposed quarry site is not near a watershed.

Torre Verde was supposed to supply materials for its construction projects in Batangas. This included sand, gravel, and other base sources for construction. But Torre Verde had yet to start its operations pending the approval of its quarry permit filed last April 2016. 

Engr. Emmanuel Balamban, Torre Verde operations head and First Balfour civil engineer manager told the media during a visit to the site on Sunday that development works were suspended in May 2016 due to difficulties in securing a quarrying permit. 

"Makikita naman natin dito, wala pa tayong equipment na na-install dito. Walang trucks, walang payloaders, walang crushers na na-mobilize dito sa site. The foundation and the pedestals kung saan natin ipapatong ang crusher natin hindi pa tapos," Balamban said.

He also clarified that, contrary to Arcilla's claim, the proposed aggregates plant is located in Taysan, Batangas, and not in the municipality of Lobo. Balamban added that they have no Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and are not planning to secure one.

The DENR also confirmed that there is no proclaimed watershed near the area.

"Hindi siya proclaimed. Kasi 'pag sinabing proclaimed water shed, pino-proclaim ng Malacañang. Pino-proclaim kasi critical area 'yun," said DENR-Environmental Management Bureau Region 4-A director Noemi Paranada.

First Balfour also said it is also willing to drop its plan to engage in quarrying if the government will ban it.

WRONG PICTURES

First Balfour opened its doors to the press after a news report came out on its supposed quarrying operations. The report, which included pictures provided by Arcilla, mentioned that First Balfour had scraped a part of the mountain, and had installed a crusher.

But it turned out that the picture was taken from the property of Montevil Trading Corp--another quarry company based in Batangas owned by the Villena family. The area is located 200 meters from the site of Torre Verde.

Montevil operations director Antonio Villena also clarified that they have no ongoing quarry activities. The crusher was only brought to the area for rehabilitation-- to prepare it in case their quarry permit is approved.

Villena added that Torre Verde leased one of their lands with an approved Environmental Compliance Certificate. 

"Meron kami leasing contract with Torre Verde," said Villena.

"Montevil and Torre Verde has entered into an operating agreement for the lease of this property where we will quarry. And besides that, First Balfour naman ay bumili ng materials ng products ng Montevil for the projects sa Batangas," said Balamban.

ARCILLA'S RESPONSE 

In a phone interview, Arcilla admitted that his staff who took the pictures may have made a mistake. Arcilla also clarified that he did not attack First Balfour with his statements.

"Sabihin natin nagkamali ako, hindi pa sila nagsisimula---mali na 'yun. Ke nagkamali ako, mali ng tao ko sa pag-identify. 'Yung interpretation na tinatawag nila na prinoprotektahan na tinatawag nila na sacred cow, hindi sa akin nanggaling 'yan. Ang sinabi ko, dahil sa maling depinisyon ng secretary, maski na 'yung quarry maapektuhan lalo na mapapasama dahil sa quarry ng kanilang pamilya...ay maapektuhan," Arcilla said.

Lopez, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that even her family will be asked to comply if they are found remiss on the environment.

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