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spiral machine for panning in gold exploration
The spiral machine used for panning in the gold exploration.
SPECIAL REPORT

Gandara officials deny pay-off over the Cobarrubias’ “gold and silver exploratory work”

By GINA DEAN
February 18, 2016

CALBAYOG CITY – The Sangguniang Bayan of Gandara finally revoked and nullified the resolution granting Mrs. Cherry dela Cruz Cobarrubias to rehabilitate Gandara River by means of dredging. Said resolution was approved in 2014 under the administration of Mayor Eufemio Oliva and Vice Mayor Jonathan Isanan.

However, the municipal government discovered that the dredging operations funded by the Cobarrubias, has turned out to be an exploration work of gold and silver mineral deposits at Brgy. Gerali. Local officials were lambasted by concerned citizens over the social media and accused of receiving pay-off from said permittee (or holder of exploration permit).

In a public hearing held last February 10 at Gandara Cultural Center, Mayor Oliva denied the bribery issue imputed against them by the people. He clarified that the resolution was approved by the sanggunian in good faith without receiving any favour from Don Angelo C. Cobarrubias or his mother Cherry. The approval of the application for exploration is not under the municipal government but under the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Office 8 after the applicant has completed all the necessary documents required by concerned government agency.

MGB-8 OIC Regional Director Nonita Caguida explained that Don Angelo C. Cobarrubias’ application for Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) was filed on April 2005 covering 808 hectares of land located at Gandara and San Jorge, Samar. In the process of application, a Notice of Posting was sent by MGB-8 to the provincial government of Samar which was automatically downloaded to the concerned municipalities for 30 days posting in conspicuous places.

The purpose of posting was to inform the public and concerned stakeholders for possible protests. Receiving no complaint within the reglementary period prescribed by law, the application of Cobarrubias proceeded smoothly with a Certificate of Posting allegedly issued by each municipality.

But while in the process of acquiring MPSA, Executive Order No. 79 or “Institutionalizing and Implementing Reforms in the Philippine Mining Sector Providing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Environmental Protection and Responsible in the Utilization of Mineral Resources” was issued in June 2012. Pending the issuance of MPSA, the proponent amended their application into exploration and submitted it to MGB-8 for final validation and clearance.

Caguida clarified that all the application documents of Cobarrubias were scrutinized; and in fact the 808 hectares was reduced into 501 after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office conducted study in the covered areas.

For those who are under the “No Gold Zone” areas (tourist and agricultural areas), it could not be covered by the exploration work. Upon validation of application documents, the exploration permit covering 501 hectares situated in Gandara and San Jorge, Samar, was released by DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Office 8 on January 20, 2015 to Don Angelo C. Cobarrubias of 2711 B-Wack-Wack, Twin Towers, Wack-wack, Mandaluyong City.

Under the Mining Act of 1995, the exploration allowed the permittee to conduct exploration work within a period of two years from its approval, and subject for renewal on the same period up to 8 years for metallic and 6 years for non-metallic. Based on research, gold is considered metallic mineral while silver is a combination of different small elements which are found in gold, lead, zinc and copper ores.

People Cry, No to Mining!

Out of 69 barangays of Gandara, 41 have attended the public hearing with 924 registered participants coming from the different organizations like the church, business sector, senior citizens, youth, academe, government retirees, concerned citizens, local PNP and municipal and barangay officials. Citizens of said municipality were shouting as a sign of protest to the exploration work being conducted by the Cobarrubias at Brgy. Gerali since 2015.

The church under the Diocese of Calbayog cited the 50 year moratorium of mining operation issued by the government after the Bagacay Mines experience. Brgy. Gerali according to the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer, Aida Gamba is an agrarian reform community along with other nearby villages.

In the absence of a map, Samar PENRO Elpidio Simon believed that the 501 hectares which was claimed by Cherry dela Cruz Cobarrubiasas a mining zone area is under Samar Island Natural Park. He added that the DENR have implemented the National Greening Program (NGP) and Community-Based Forest Management Program (CBMP) at Brgy. Gerali and nearby villages.

Who is Cherry dela Cruz Cobarrubias?

She claimed herself as a true-blooded Gandareño who hailed from Brgy. Gerali. Established connections in the circle and sponsored the rehabilitation of Gandara River. Received an award from the municipal government as the “Most Outstanding Gandareño in 2014”. In a conversation with a reliable source, he disclosed that Cherry dela Cruz Cobarrubias’ mother was from Matuguinao and her father was from Catbalogan, Samar. Contrary to her claim that her family originated from Brgy. Gerali where exploratory work is being conducted, the source revealed that Cherry’s father used to teach at said barangay.

She had a colourful life in the film industry as she produced “Bulaklak ng City Jail” and many more. In the field of politics, she is still the president of Marcos Loyalists Movement.

According to the source, Gerali mineral deposits was then a long time project of Cobarrubias. She was able to persuade millions of investment from an Australian couple but their partnership was terminated when the couple has detected suspicion from said operation. It was also learned that Samar’s former Vice Governor Jesus Redaja made an investment in a mining operation at Bagacay Mines, but the deal was cut short leaving the latter’s equipment abandoned at the mining site.

To get Cherry Cobarrubias’ comments, the writer requested her geologist for an interview but no feedback was received.

The National Law vs. People Power

Despite the strong disapproval of the people of Gandara, Cherry Cobarrubias is confident that the exploratory work will pursue.

MGB-8 OIC Regional Director NonitaCaguidasaid that the documents for the acquisition of exploratory permit have undergone a long scrutiny, and local ordinances or resolutions with the intention of revoking such permit cannot be allowed for it cannot supersede the national law as provided in RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Caguida was one of the witnesses in the Exploration Permit issued by MGB-8 to the Cobarrubias in January 20, 2015.

On the other hand, an insider of the Environment of Natural Resources Office advised that a written petition of the people may work by directly submitting the same to the central office. The absence of a public consultation prior to the exploration work could be one of the basis of the petition, he said.

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