By Daniel Llanto FilAm Star Correspondent
For about two years, Chinese construction crew dug out a whole mountain in Sta. Cruz, Zambales posing as nickel miners. But in fact they used the soil and rocks as covering materials for China’s reclamation of Scarborough Shoal which Beijing started to occupy in 2012.
This was revealed by Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso who said the soil and rocks dumped by China on a wide area of Scarborough Shoal were gouged out from Zambales itself, in a frenzied two-year operation that involved seven Chinese firms using nickel mining as cover.
Scarborough Shoal is also called Bajo de Masinloc because it is only 124 nautical miles off Masinloc town in Zambales and is a rich traditional fishing ground for Filipinos.
Deloso complained that his predecessor, Hermogenes Ebdane, had allowed the massive excavations for over two years, practically “flattening a mountain” and damaging a wide area of Sta. Cruz’s forested highlands. Worse, the soil and rocks taken from the mainland and dumped on the shoal did massive, irreparable damage to the marine environment.
This could be an indication of the complete disdain in which China treats the Philippines’ territorial claim on the West Philippine Sea areas that it has reclaimed and occupied. Thus, about a month after the Philippines won the arbitration case it filed to stop China’s “excessive” nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea, fishermen in Zambales say they have yet to feel the impact of that victory.
The UN arbitral tribunal, without ruling on who owns Scarborough, tagged the area as a traditional fishing ground for the Philippines.
Veloso said the carved-out sides of the mountains of Sta. Cruz are visible from afar, remnants of a mad endeavor to get earthen material for China to fill up parts of Scarborough Shoal that Beijing has de facto occupied since an April 2012 standoff when its ships drove away Filipino boats from traditional rich fishing grounds.
Governor Deloso gave details of the mad frenzy: “Because Scarborough is purely corals, because they need materials for reclamation, kailangan nila ang pinakamalapit na supply ng materials. For two years, walang ginawa dito sa Zambales kundi maghakot ng malalaking bato.”
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, nearly 3,000 hectares of Bajo de Masinloc have been dumped with earth and rocks by China’s reclamation brigades.
No wonder, Deloso said, the two mountains in the area are now nearly flat. “At that time, our impression was they were mining nickel. There were 450 trucks traveling night and day to and from the site. The roads were damaged eventually.”
He conceded that taking on those behind the Chinese miners and excavators was no easy task: “Mahirap lumaban sa mga higante eh, pero wala akong choice. This involves the welfare of the people of my province. Tutal nasa Bayang Magiliw yan … Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo. Hindi ba?”
Deloso said he got information that seven Chinese companies had gouged out the area, using nickel mining as pretext.
These people practically “bought the mountains” of Sta. Cruz, he added. Roads and farms were damaged. “They destroyed the total environment of Sta. Cruz….in the six years of your former friend the former governor…”
Residents admit they are affected adversely by the damage to their mountains and forests, but said many of them have found jobs in the mines.
The new Department of Environment and Natural Resources Gina Lopez was aghast at the report less in terms of the Chinese duplicity and treachery than on environmental concerns.
Lopez said she is forming a task force to investigate the incident. ‘It’s horrible. I’ll find out whoever gave the permit, why they are getting the soil. If there are DENR officials involved they’ll be made accountable.”
The local government has also stopped all mining activities in the province.