Senate seeks probe into ‘unabated’ dredging in Zambales by alleged Chinese workers

(GMA NEWS) A Senate investigation into the “unabated” dredging activities allegedly conducted by Chinese workers in coastal areas of Zambales has been sought.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, has filed proposed Senate Resolution 966, saying these dredging activities could have a significant impact on the lives of the residents of Zambales who rely on fishing and may disturb the overall balance of the ecosystem.

“It is worthy for the appropriate senate committees to thoroughly look into the supposed seabed mining activities in the guise of river dredging in the province of Zambales, considering that these activities which have been ongoing for several years already pose a risk to the environment, affect the livelihood of residents, and negatively impact the once vibrant tourism in the coastal areas,” Estrada said in his resolution.

“Relevant agencies need to shed light and update the Senate, in the exercise of its oversight powers, on this important matter,” he added.

In his resolution, Estrada cited the concerns of residents from San Felipe, Zambales on the ongoing dredging activities and the sighting of at least 14 dredging vessels allegedly being operated by Chinese crew members in the municipality.

The senator said the dredging activities were “justified” by San Felipe Mayor Reinhard Jeresano as these are supposed to fortify flood mitigation schemes in the heavily silted rivers and that the extracted sand is being transported to some reclamation area.

According to Estrada, the mayor claimed the town was suffering from perennial flooding as its rivers remain heavily silted because of the sand and lahar from the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

The flooding, however, was refuted by the residents, according to Estrada.

The senator likewise mentioned that the dredging activities are being carried out by state-owned China Harbour Engineering Co., which he noted is the world’s second largest dredging company and a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC).

He recalled the United States Embassy’s statement last year on the involvement of CCCC, a firm blacklisted by America for its supposed role in constructing and militarizing artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, in Manila Bay’s reclamation projects.

Further, Estrada mentioned the grave concerns of environmental advocates, including the Zambales Ecological Network’s documentation of the destruction caused by the dredging activities and “seabed mining” allegedly conducted by at least four dozen dredging vessels and cargo ships, which they said, resulted in coastal erosion and apparent damage to the San Felipe Coastal Road.

“The group monitored the Chinese vessels were actually heading to China after conducting some dredging activities. The group also said Chinese workers are ‘trashing’ Zambales shores with plastic bottles, cigarette boxes, and other trash, which is a violation of Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,” Estrada said in his resolution.

With this, Estrada stressed the need to determine whether or not the Chinese workers are properly documented to conduct dredging.

He then noted Administrative Order No. 2019-13 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which rationalized the dredging activities in the heavily-silted river channels of Bucao in Botolan, Maloma in San Felipe, Sto. Tomas traversing the San Marcelino, San Narciso, and San Felipe municipalities in Zambales.

Subsequently, Estrada said Administrative Order 2020-07 was issued by DENR, detailing that there is no extraction limit and that only citizens of the Philippines or any corporation registered with the corporate regulator may apply for dredging clearance with relevant government agencies.—RF, GMA Integrated News