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In Pampanga, Pinatubo sand is gold

/ 11:15 PM June 26, 2012

Lahar washed down by rains from the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo is the least of worries of Freddie Enriquez, Alan Canlapan and Nemencio Punzalan, on the 21st anniversary of the volcano’s June 1991 eruptions.

The more supply that rains replenish on the Pasig-Potrero and Porac-Gumain rivers, the more that the three men say they and a thousand other residents of Porac town in Pampanga are happy.

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Enriquez is in the businesses of hauling and refining sand. Canlapan ekes out a living as a “hustler” or one who leads buyers to sites where sand and gravel are of good quality. Punzalan serves as village chief of Manibaug-Pasig, which has received P24.843 million in shares from the P150 sand tax that the provincial government collected from every truckload from July 2010 to April this year, a low price to pay to a community buried by volcanic debris.

Province-wide, the outlook is more positive because quarry collections have steadily increased, says Vice Gov. Joseller “Yeng” Guiao.

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From out of the P150 administrative fee and P150 sand tax that holders of 80 quarry permits pay for each truckload, the administration of Gov. Lilia Pineda generated P507.367 million from July 2010 to June 23 this year, making sand the biggest source of local income, reports showed. The provincial government has increased the administrative fee to P200 starting February.

“The tragedy spawned by the eruptions also brought us blessings, like sand,” says Guiao. The disaster, which lingered for a decade, was unprecedented in several ways and many regard it as the most serious challenge to the resiliency of Kapampangans.

“The benchmark set by Among Ed (former Gov. Eddie Panlilio) is being replicated and will hopefully be exceeded by [Pineda],” says lawyer Andres Pangilinan, provincial administrator and head of the quarry task force, Kalam.

Panlilio, a Catholic priest, introduced reforms that included requiring permit holders to pay at the provincial treasurer’s office, not at checkpoints.

In three years, the capitol collected P611.105 million, or five times more than the P115.981-million take during the six years that Manuel “Lito” Lapid, now a senator, and his son, Mark, served as governors.

Income leaks

Panlilio says income leaks were discovered in his time as some checkpoint personnel and quarry operators connived to cheat the government.

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Also in the coffers of the provincial government, says Pangilinan, is the more than P300 million that Panlilio deposited in a bank while a case contesting Ordinance No. 176 was pending. The provincial board passed the ordinance in support of the clamor of mayors to make the entire P300 million the subject of income sharing, leaving nothing to the governor to use for monitoring and regulating the quarry industry.

The board withdrew the ordinance during Pineda’s term.

Still, the amounts accumulated during the terms of Panlilio and Pineda are higher than the P392.785 million that the state-owned Natural Resources Development Corp. collected between 1999 and 2001.

Towns and barangays are benefiting from the high collections. Their 30 percent and 40 percent shares, respectively, in the P150 sand tax totaled P215.632 million (July 2007-June 2010) and P165.781 million (July 2010-April this year). The provincial government’s 30 percent share is returned to the general fund.

No accounting

There is no accounting of how quarry shares are spent and the Commission on Audit does not look into it. But the recent figures, Guiao notes, are signs of a more efficient system.

The capitol maintains 212 employees working on three shifts at 56 checkpoints to “enforce a system where conditions for the commission of graft is little or none at all,” says Pangilinan. The salaries and benefits of Kalam employees have been raised.

Pangilinan denies reports that relatives of Pineda are into quarrying or that the governor allows mayors to use gratuitous permits for commercial sand trade.

He also says information sent to the Inquirer that the capitol “forces [permit holders] to pay for more receipts to show high collections” are untrue.

Officials admit that the provincial government’s anti-overloading drive has been delayed, unable to stop the deterioration of national and local roads and bridges.

Guiao suggests the participation of stakeholders and the computerization of the payment system to improve collections further. “We have to look into the future … the system may be abused,” he says.

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