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Probe on Balili property backfilling almost done

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Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol said they are almost done with their investigation of the backfilling of the Balili beach property in Naga City in southern Cebu.

Pelagio, in an interview, said they may issue a cease and desist order to stop the land reclamation.

“The Ombudsman investigates any irregularities and questionable spending of money in government,” Apostol said.

Suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is facing two new graft complaints for backfilling the Balili property. One case was filed by Liberal Party gubernatorial candidate Hilario “Junjun” Davide III. Another was filed by acting Gov. Agnes Magpale and Provincial Board Majority Floor Leader Arleigh Jay Sitoy.

The complainants said they discovered that the foreshore land and a fishpond had been reclaimed and covered with limestone and filling materials.

In his complaint, Davide said backfilling the submerged portions of the Balili property was done in bad faith as it suppressed the evidence on the the criminal charges against Garcia before the Sandiganbayan.

‘Tremendous damage’

Davide, who will go up against Garcia’s brother in a race for the gubernatorial seat, said the release of P27 million for the “restoration” work at the Balili property would cause “tremendous damage and prejudice” to the province since the Provincial Board has not approved any budget for the land conversion and no bidding was made.

Acting Gov. Magpale assured that no work would continue at the Balili property while the case is in the graft court.

“Since the property is under litigation, there will be no development there for the meantime,” Magpale said in a text message.

Sitoy said that if it involved dumping of coal ash waste, he would definitely oppose it.

“The Balili project springs from a polluted source,” he said, adding that he intends to prevent damage to the environment and the legal system.

No dumping

Provincial Planning and Development Officer Adolfo Quiroga said that there will be no dumping of coal ash in the Balili property since the provincial government has already used limestone to fill the ponds.

He said there will be no environmental hazards anymore if the Capitol continues with the economic zone project there. “We only need to make a few changes in our ECC (environmental compliance certificate) kay dili naman coal ash ato gigamit,” Quiroga explained. (we are not using coal ash).

“This place is ready for an economic zone if the sitting governor wants to continue it. We will depend on the decision of Magpale,” Quiroga said.

An environment lawyer challenged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to conduct an inspection of the Balili property.

Benjamin Cabrido of the Philippine Earth Justice Center, Inc. (PEJC) said that the two agencies should find out if the area can still be reverted to its original state.

“We want this land really to be reverted to its original state, into a mangrove area,” Cabrido said.

He also said that they want to remove the P1 million plastic liner made of f high density polyethylene liner (HDPE) surrounding the 6,000 square meter fish pond.

A pre-trial conference will be held today at the Mandaue Regional Trial Court after a mediation proceedings to resolve the case filed in February 2012. /with reports from Renan Alangilan and intern Michelle Joy L. Padayhag

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