BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya?Church officials and civil society leaders in Cagayan are outraged by what they said was the special treatment that 22 crewmen of a beached North Korean ship were getting from government officials.
They questioned the legality of the North Koreans? entry into the country and of the shipment of magnetite (black sand) that was believed to have been extracted from the province?s rivers and beaches.
Crew members of MV Nam Yang 8 abandoned ship after it listed off the shores of Claveria, Cagayan, on Jan. 1. They reached the village of Taggat Norte in Claveria aboard a life boat.
?These Koreans are being treated as tourists. Instead of undergoing quarantine procedures, they are roaming in the [village]. Some are swimming in the beach, drinking,? said Lazaro Ramos, a former Cagayan board member and member of a multisectoral group opposed to mining in the province.
Ramos, a doctor, asked why the Koreans were not subjected to quarantine procedures, amid the possibility that any one of them could be carrying an infectious disease.
?Instead of being subjected to strict government regulations, our authorities are rushing to attend to the needs of these aliens. They?re getting VIP treatment,? he said.
Ramos and Catholic priests in the province said a top official from Cagayan, whom they did not name, had been wielding influence on the case to protect mining operations there, which, they said, was exposed by the Nam Yang 8 accident.
?We have gotten reports that an immigration official in Ilocos Norte got a call from this politician to transfer custody of the Koreans to immigration officers in Cagayan, apparently because they have better control of things if they are in Cagayan,? said Fr. Edgar Agcaoili, parish priest of Baggao town.
A report sent by Claveria police officials to Chief Supt. Roberto Damian, Cagayan Valley police director, showed that Paulino Verzosa, acting alien control officer of the Bureau of Immigration in Laoag City, gave up custody of 10 of the 22 North Koreans on the intercession of Eva Antiporda, alien control officer of Aparri in Cagayan.
The report said after the North Koreans were taken to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, they were brought back to Claveria on Monday after negotiations.
But in a statement, Victor Malenab, alien control officer in Tuguegarao City, said the Koreans were taken to Laoag City on Sunday.
There was an earlier custody battle between immigration officials from Ilocos Norte and Cagayan because, while the North Koreans made it to shore in Claveria, their 3,461-ton cargo ship drifted westward and ran aground near the coastline of Barangay Balaoi in Pagudpud.
Arsenio de la Peña, Taggat Norte village chief, said the barangay government was giving temporary refuge to the North Korean crewmen, even giving them food and other needs.
?The company has promised that they will pay us back for all expenses that we will incur. Anyway, everything is okay here because all concerned agencies of government are here to look after their welfare,? he said, referring to the BI, Bureau of Customs, Coast Guard and police.
De la Peña declined to comment, however, when asked about the supposed special treatment.
Damian said the police have been providing security to the North Koreans, not as a special case, but merely as a routine procedure.
?That is routine. We provide security whoever may need it and we will continue to secure these Koreans until they are able to go back home safe,? he said.
Damian declined to answer questions on the North Koreans? status or if the shipment of about 2,800 metric tons of magnetite was covered by documents.
?Those are matters that are the concern of other government agencies. Our concern is mainly security,? he said.
Mario Ancheta, Cagayan Valley director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, stood by his earlier statement that the Nam Yang 8 shipment was covered by a valid export permit issued by the provincial government, a claim that was denied by Gov. Alvaro Antonio.