REPRESENTATIVE Rosanna “Ria” V. Vergara of the 3rd District of Nueva Ecija denounced the quarrying activities in Nueva Ecija and exposed alleged violations of law being committed by provincial government officials including the misdeclaration of the quarry tax collections and the irregularities in the issuance of quarry permits.
In her privilege, speech, she proceeded to support these points by comparing the revenue generated by Nueva Ecija from quarrying with that of Pampanga. She pointed out that Nueva is much bigger than Pampanga in terms of land area. Nueva Ecija also has much more quarry resources as it has many rivers flowing from the Cordilleras and Sierra Madre. Despite this, however, the province of Pampanga, in the last decade at least, collected a significantly larger amount from quarrying taxes than Nueva Ecija. In 2015 alone, Pampanga collected P359 million in taxes while Nueva Ecija only generated P5.4 million from the quarry tax collections.
Furthermore, the speech lamented the measly share received by Cabanatuan City from the quarry tax collections of the provincial government which she claimed to be improbable considering the voluminous public and private sector developments in the city for the past several years.
In the same speech, Rep. Vergara laid out the case for the transfer of the power to issue quarry permits from the provincial government to the city or municipal government, which was supported by the constant efforts by legislators through the years to amend the relevant provisions of the Local Government Code.
Rep. Vergara, together Rep. Micaela Violago (2nd District of Nueva Ecija), Rep. Magnolia Antonino (4th District of Nueva Ecija) and Rep. Arnolfo Teves (3rd District of Negros Oriental) thereafter filed a house resolution calling for a congressional inquiry into the matters exposed by Rep. Vergara in her privilege speech.
Recognizing that corruption is the core issue, the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability assumed jurisdiction over House Resolution No. 1505 on 30 January 2018.
During the initial deliberations on 20 February 2018, the provincial officials who were invited, including former Governor Aurelio Umali and incumbent Governor Czarina Umali, failed to appear. The Committee thus issued a show-cause notice to the provincial officials requiring them to explain why they should not be cited for contempt due to their unjustified absence.
In the hearing, former Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region III Director Engr. Lope Carino made a startling revelation that the provincial governor has been issuing sand and gravel permits without the applications passing through the PMRB, in direct violation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. The Committee likewise noted the provincial government’s violation of the Local Government Code for not remitting the shares of the local government units (LGUs) from the proceeds of quarry tax collections which, under the law, should be released automatically to the LGUs.
Lastly, the resource persons from the DENR were directed by the Committee to take the appropriate remedial actions so as to prevent a tragedy in Nueva Ecija similar to that which happened in Ormoc City way back in 1991, owing to the illegal and excessive quarrying activities being undertaken in portions of Nueva Ecija which are already considered as “danger zones”.
They were directed, among others, to temporarily suspend quarrying activities in these critical areas.