LEGAZPI CITY—A virtually unknown plan to build a 261.4-kilometer circumferential road around Mayon Volcano surprised Albayanos as the project began its implementation.
The multibillion-peso project, however, met a barrage of objections and criticisms in the social media, including opposition from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
With the initial funding of P60 million, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) began the implementation only to be halted following the objection from the Phivolcs and the DENR.
DENR Bicol Assistant Regional Director Roberto Sheen said in a news conference last Wednesday the DENR will file criminal and administrative charges against DPWH executives over the cutting of trees in the project sites believed to be within the protected area without the required cutting permit and absence of environmental clearance certificate (ECC). The seized cut trees were brought to the DENR compound.
Sheen feared the Mayon circumferential-road project, if pushed through, will endanger the many protected areas around Mayon Volcano.
Phivolcs resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said the road project around Mayon would intrude into the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ), which has long been declared as a no man’s land. Laguerta sent his report to Phivolcs Director Renato U. Solidum for his final action following a partial survey conducted on the project sites.
Maria Carmen Taopo of the Bicol Environment Management Bureau (EMB) said a show-cause order have been sent already to District Engineer Simon Arias of the Albay First District Engineering Office in Legazpi to answer within 10 days why the circumferential-road project was started without the ECC. She added a penalty of P50,000 awaits the respondent DPWH.
Marcial Tuanqui, former president of the Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, wonders why the project was hastily started by the DPWH in the absence of public consultation and DENR clearances. In his Facebook account, Tuanqui urged the government to stop the road construction, saying it is not for the best interest of the province. He wondered how the project hurdled the Regional Development Council (RDC) without a public consultation.
Albayanos were surprised to learn that a circumferential road is being constructed around Mayon, following the Phivolcs and DENR opposition in the media. Social-media reactions said cutting of trees would certainly lead to soil erosion and flooding.
The construction of the Mayon circumferential road started as early as June at Barangay Bonga in Bacacay town and the neighboring Barangay San Roque of Malilipot town in the first district.
Arias cannot be contacted for comment as he was reported to be always in Manila. His information officer, Marites Manago, also refused to answer calls and text messages.
According to Engr. Cesar Sanorjo, Albay DPWH First Construction chief, the P60-million initial funding was for two road openings at Barangay Bonga (2 km) and at Barangay San Roque (1 km). He said the Bonga road opening has a budget of P50 million, while the San Roque road opening was P10 million.
Sanorjo explained that between the two road opening projects is an old road that would connect the two barangays.
Under contract with Sunwest Group of Cos. (P50 million), the P10 million is under contract with DSB Construction, allegedly a favored contractor, according to DPWH records.
A source said Sunwest Group, which built roads and bridges leading to Cagraray island, is also the owner of the Misibis Resort. Sunwest also built the P4-billion 5-kilometer-long Legazpi
Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel M. Batocabe of Ako Bicol defended the project, saying the blueprint showed it is outside the PDZ. He said the Mayon circumferential road would serve as an alternate route for the province’s 16 towns and three cities.
Contacted for comment, Albay Gov. Al Francis C. Bichara Spokesman Danny Garcia said the governor is not aware whether the project was approved by the RDC. Bichara is the RDC chairman.
Garcia said in telephone calls that the governor was surprised how the project was started without the ECC and permit to cut trees from the DENR.
Asked why the DPWH did not secure the ECC and cutting permit from the DENR, Regional Legal Officer Oliver Rodulfo blamed the Albay First District Engineering Office, which is responsible in the initial implementation of the project.
The Phivolcs, in coordination with the provincial government, had long declared the PDZ as a no man’s land and also banned Mayon climbing activities.
The Phivolcs said that, in past eruptions, it had to expand the danger zone to as far as 8 kilometers, citing the 1993 eruption where more than 85 residents died.
According to volcanologist Alex Balutan, Mayon Volcano remains under alert level 1. He said that any time Mayon may erupt, citing the 1993 major eruption where no signs or indication of abnormality was shown in the Phivolcs monitoring equipment.
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