Residents of Bakhaw Norte in Kalibo, literally, took to the streets their anger and frustration to express opposition of the impending dredging of Aklan River.
Around 100 residents staged the protest march to Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) and to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)-Aklan District Engineering Office on January 26.
They also proceeded to the Provincial Capitol Building for a dialogue with Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores to oppose the sand and gravel extraction of Santarli (STL) Panay Resources Company.
Protesters held placards and banners that read “Stop Dredging Operation, Save Bakhaw Norte Soil Erosion” and “STL Mining-Hindi Dredging”. Another slogan on a tarpaulin read “Salot sa Taga Libuton (STL)” referring to the proponent of dredging operation.
STL has commissioned MV Zhong Hai 18 of Globe Bulk Services Philippines Corporation to dredge the heavily-silted Aklan River. Last week, the dredger vessel allegedly start-up its dredge pumps and components without the necessary permits for dredging work.
Following the complaints of Bakhaw Norte residents, the multi-partite monitoring team conducted site inspection and discovered more than 1,200 cubic meters dredged material stored in two separate compartments on January 23.
In response to Bakhaw Norte residents’ complaint, DENR Technical Services Division chief Merline Aborka told the protesters that DENR will issue a show cause order for STL to immediately stop the operations.
The show cause order signed by PENRO-Aklan chief Ivene Reyes also directs the STL to submit justifications despite the agreement with multi-partite monitoring team why the company continued their dredging activities.
‘Protection muna bago dredging’
Aklan congressman Carlito Marquez and Kalibo mayor William Lachica also held a dialogue with residents of Sitio Libuton and barangay officials of Bakhaw Norte on Thursday afternoon.
A revetment wall in the riverbank amounting to P38-million is proposed during the dialogue to mitigate the possible impact of flooding in low-lying area.
Maribeth Cual, barangay captain of Bakhaw Norte, said the flood embankment will benefit households residing on or near the riverbank during continuous heavy downpours.
Bakhaw Norte with 2,336 residents (2015 census) is an island barangay in Kalibo. It has an area of 312.75 hectares bounded by Sibuyan Sea and Aklan River.
“Ga-opponer kami sa dredging dahil kami ro direkta nga apektado. Indi dapat padayunon ru dredging activities sa Aklan River, protection muna bago dredging,” she added.
Engr. Roger Esto, spokesperson of multi-partite monitoring team, said STL officials assured the residents and the provincial government of Aklan to ‘pull-out’ the dredger vessel and to wait for ‘as-staked’ survey approval by DPWH national office before MV Zhong Hai 18 could start the dredging operations.
Under the memorandum of agreement, STL will dredge 15 million cubic meters of sand for the next three years to help declog the Aklan River with silt and debris. It will also compensate the provincial government P5 cubic meter of dredged materials which will be used for flood mitigation and risk reduction projects.
BY BOY RYAN B. ZABAL