Carpetbaggers Back Off My Boyhood Town!



Joseph Lariosa

(© Journal Group Link International)

C HICAGO (jGLi) – When I was a young boy vacationing in the native town of my mother, Consolacion G. Garra, in Matnog, Sorsogon, Luzon’s gateway to Southern Philippines, I always wondered why its white beaches had sprinklings of black sands.

It turned out those black sands are called “margahas,” which I later came to know as magnetite sands.

With no money to buy toys, we used these margahas to entertain us. We would put a trickle of these black sands on top of a small piece of grade school pad paper and put a magnet or magnetite stone (bato balani) below the paper and we would run the magnet in different directions.

Because the margahas is attracted to the magnets, these black sands would stand up on end, like soldiers, if we moved the magnet or bato balani below the paper. The margahas would follow the magnet like dutiful soldiers.

And it gave us a kick because it put matters under our control.

I had no idea that these margahas and bato balani abundant in Matnog and the whole of the Bicol region were iron oxide minerals that are often mined as an ore or iron. It is commonly used as abrasive in water jet cutting, as toner in electrophotography and as micronutrient in fertilizers, as pigments in paint, etc.

These magnetic minerals attracted nationwide attention in November 2005 when two sacks of dead fishes were allegedly buried in Barangay Binosawan in Rapu-Rapu, an island town of Sorsogon’s neighboring province of Albay to the north.

For these margahas and bato balani to be of commercial use, they have to be mined. During their mining, they would give off toxic discharges, like cyanide, that emptied into Albay Gulf and into the Pacific Ocean that flowed south to neighboring towns of Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan and Bacon (now part of the capitol town of Sorsogon City), all in Sorsogon province.


The cyanide poisoning caused massive fish kills in the area prompting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to create the Presidential Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission Report, and a separate DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Assessment of the Rapu Rapu Polymetallic Project, both in 2006.

In one of then-President Arroyo’s rare shining moments, she approved the Commission’s report to junk the “$45-million in capital investments from Lafayette, Philippines, Inc. (LPI) of Australia, as well as $10-million investments from LG Group of Korea” that were jointly mining in Rapu Rapu. Ms. Arroyo learned that LPI’s Country Manager Mr. Roderick Watt “inadvertently stated in his letter” to her that LPI’s PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) application did not need the Mayor’s (Rapu Rapu’s) concurrence.

More damaging, however, was the forgery of Rapu Rapu Sangguniang Bayan Secretary’s signature in the SB resolution that granted “ecozone” permit to LPI for tax-exemption.

As a PEZA registrant, LPI certified that it would not endanger public safety or public health or violate anti-pollution requirements by installing pollution-control devices.

As a result of the fish kills, the National Economic Development Authority recommended the LPI’s “tax-free status” revoked. While the DENR ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue to investigate possible tax fraud as a mere two percent was paid in excise tax for the year 2005 for PhP 2,065,511.54, out of the $2.4-million ore exported.

But the most damning information issued by the Commission is the finding that the “DENR, its bureaus, i.e., MGB (Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau) and EMB (Environmental Management Bureau), its regional offices, including its monitoring team, (are) to be so dysfunctional as to be unable to prevent the occurrence of the October (fish kills) incidents. They simply did not have the sufficient capability of monitoring mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. Worse, though, is that if they had the capability, then, they utterly lacked will.”


I wonder if my friend, Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee, ever read these reports. He was quoted in the report as saying that in Sorsogon, the fish scare caused “unwarranted and untold sufferings” to fisher folk families, fish traders and the fish consuming public. Did the good governor ever sue the LPI for damages to assuage the “unwarranted and untold sufferings” of his constituents?

A registered mail sent me by Gov. Lee justifies the approval of a similar small-scale mining operation, like Rapu-Rapu’s, in a small barangay of Balocawe in Matnog consisting of 19,848 hectares.

The lucky mining permit holder is one Antonio Ocampo and/or Antonio Comerciase, Jr. of No. 3 Barangay Tomolin, Ligao, Albay. He was given a permit on “Sept. 23, 2009, to extract 25,000 metric tons of iron ore from Sept. 23, 2009, to Sept. 22, 2010, with an option to renew for the same length of period.”

Writer’s Note: Rapu-Rapu’s mining operation covers only 5,218 hectares and was able to extract 67,693 metric tons of gold ore mined in 2005 and exported $2.4-million worth of ore.

Governor Lee was prodded to send me a letter after I e-mailed DENR Secretary Ramon J. Paje that he should listen to the petition of “Save Matnog, Stop The Iron Project.” Secretary Paje, in turn, forwarded my e-mail to Regional Director Reynulfo A. Juan of Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau in Bicol. Mr. Juan sent me a registered mail, informing Governor Lee about my complaint.

In his letter to the Governor, Director Juan said, “(M)ay we recommend that the Provincial Government conduct the necessary validation on the issues being raised and to inform Mr. Lariosa directly on the actions taken by your office”?


 Governor Lee told me, the “Permit Holder (on Balocawe mining) was issued with an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) dated Aug. 13, 2009, by the DENR Environment Management Bureau (EMB V) on the basis of the submitted Project Study and Initial Environmental Examination Report after thorough evaluation of that Office who (sic) has the authority and capacity to undertake environmental assessment of projects within their area of jurisdiction.”

Mr. Governor, the permit was issued in August 2009, three years after the scathing Commission Report. My question to you is this: Did you get an assurance that remedial measures have now been undertaken since the Commission’s report in 2006 that indicted the “DENR, its bureaus (i.e. MGB (Mines and Geo-Sciences) and EMB (Environmental Management Bureau), its regional offices, including its monitoring team, (as) to be so dysfunctional as to be unable to prevent the occurrence of the October (fish-kill) incidents? They simply did not have the sufficient capability of monitoring mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. Worse, though, is that if they had the capability, then they utterly lacked (the) will”?

Does the mining permit holder have the LFI’s and LG’s of Korea combined resources in capital investment of $55-million to operate a much-bigger “small mining” operation that will ensure the public safety or ensure public health and not violate anti-pollution requirements by installing “control devices”? If so, who are his business partners?

In the event of a disaster, like a massive fish kills, or loss of the threatened Philippine Eagle owl (Bubo, Philippines), whose nest will be displaced by the clearing of the biodiversity area and occurrence of mudslides, is the permit holder capable of buying disaster insurance from Lloyds of London to appropriately compensate future victims, who in your words, may run into “unwarranted and untold sufferings”?

If you can answer, “yes” to all these questions, I will be behind this permit holder.

Meanwhile, I am appealing to President Noynoy Aquino and the Commission on Appointments to keep and confirm Mr. Paje as DENR Secretary and keep or promote Director Juan just for responding to my e-mail. Any other Cabinet Secretary or Bureau Director would have just deleted my e-mail complaint from their junk e-mails. 

Happy New Year to all! # # #

Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at: (


8 thoughts on “Carpetbaggers Back Off My Boyhood Town!

  1. Thanks for your post Mr. Lariosa.
    Our public servants easily forget capability and will when dollars are hurled at their doorsteps, so no wonder why permits were quickly issued and signature even forged to make everything run fast and smooth. That’s why the term Grease Money. A Greasedvernor like Raul Lee is paid to ignore the damages to environment, bio-diversity and untold sufferings of Bicol folks. You can see how he vehemently defended the quarry operators in his conversation with the Bicol Bishop. Only a greased mind thinks like that. And it is easy for him to challenge somebody to a debate when the people supplying him his proofs have been greased. Grease- be- with- you, and- also-with- you provincial politics. Or, a-small-mind, big-belly-local politics.

    Investments are welcome but the communities should benefit from them while protecting the ecology of the region; such investments are sustainable. Hit and run investors and politicians are not people and ecology-friendly. They must be tried and put behind bars.

    jun asuncion


    Note: from PIO-Bulan to Jun Asuncion

    Hereunder is a copy of the Position Paper of the Municipal Government of Bulan on the issues you raised regarding Margaja mining in Bulan.

    November 8, 2008

    Honorable Iggy T. Arroyo
    The Committee Chairman

    The Honorable Committee Members
    Committee on Natural Resources
    House of Representatives
    Metro Manila


    Section 138, Chapter 2, Book II of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 states, “ xxx . The permit to extract sand, gravel and other quarry resources shall be issued exclusively by the provincial governor, pursuant to the ordinance of the sangguniang panlalawigan…”

    We respectfully submit to the Honorable Committee that the issue on the granting of approval and permits to prospectors of and operators on quarry resources is beyond the jurisdiction of the municipal government.

    What the municipal government does, upon application by the quarry operation applicant, as part of the application procedure, is to issue a certificate of endorsement that it interposes no objection prior to the securing of the necessary permits and license from the concerned DENR agencies and the provincial government.

    It is up to the concerned DENR agencies and the provincial government to judiciously decide whether the necessary requirements have been complied with. Given their technical expertise, which is beyond the scope of this local government, the former can very well determine and decide on the granting of permits on these resources.

    As far as the Municipal Government is concerned, we were informed that there was a permittee of magnetite sand quarrying in our locality, first in late 2006, and then the permit was renewed in August of 2008.

    On the matter of taxation, it will be up to the provincial government to remit the share to our municipal government and to the concerned barangays where the quarrying is taking place, for the utilization of our local resource.

    As to the matter of operation, while it is within our territorial jurisdiction, we are of the presumption that the supervision on compliance to standards set forth by law rests with the agencies concerned who have issued the permit to such an activity.

    Municipal Mayor


    5 Responses to Position Paper of the Municipal Government Of Bulan Regarding Margaja Mining In Bulan.
    December 20, 2008 at 9:40 am

    To Mayor Helen De Castro/To PIO-Bulan:

    Thank You for your promt reply, at least regarding the topic of margaja quarrying in our town Bulan.

    It is true that “The permit to extract sand, gravel and other quarry resources shall be issued exclusively by the provincial governor, pursuant to the ordinance of the sangguniang panlalawigan.“- as stated in Section 138 of the Local Government Code of 1991.

    The steps taken by the Municipality of Bulan- as stated in its position paper- are without doubt also correct and also the acknowledgement of the fact that it is beyond the scope of the municipality to decide whether the necessary requirements have been complied with, thus allowing the DENR authorities and provincial government-not only as being prescribed by law but in their being in possesion of the necessary technical expertise- to grant permits on quarrying.

    For us to grasp the whole subject matter, I reproduced hereunder the whole Section 138:

    Section 138. Tax on Sand, Gravel and Other Quarry Resources. – The province may levy and collect not more than ten percent (10%) of fair market value in the locality per cubic meter of ordinary stones, sand, gravel, earth, and other quarry resources, as defined under the National Internal Revenue Code, as amended, extracted from public lands or from the beds of seas, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and other public waters within its territorial jurisdiction.The permit to extract sand, gravel and other quarry resources shall be issued exclusively by the provincial governor, pursuant to the ordinance of the sangguniang panlalawigan.

    The position paper continues: “On the matter of taxation, it will be up to the provincial government to remit the share to our municipal government and to the concerned barangays where the quarrying is taking place, for the utilization of our local resource.”

    This is also in accordance with the Local Government Code 1991 which states- as continuation of Section 138-:

    “The proceeds of the tax on sand, gravel and other quarry resources shall be distributed as follows:

    (1) Province – Thirty percent (30%);

    (2) Component City or Municipality where the sand, gravel, and other quarry resources are extracted – Thirty percent (30%); and

    (3) Barangay where the sand, gravel, and other quarry resources are extracted – Forty percent (40%).

    The law on taxation with regards to quarrying is therefore clearly defined:

    30% for the Governor, 30% for the Mayor and 40% for the Punong Barangay- legal shares for each of them as part of their right to generate revenues to be used for their respective territories. Bulan should therefore have a total of 70% share of the the total proceeds of the tax.

    The magnetite sand quarrying in Bulan is already in operation since late 2006, the permit being renewed in August 2008, roughly 2 years of quarrying already.

    Other things being equal, I assume that the provincial government of Sorsogon, the Municipal Government of Bulan and most especially the Barangay(s) where this quarrying is taking place have already profited from this magnetite sand for roughly 2 years now. For the mayor is obliged by law to “(3).. (iii) Ensure that all taxes and other revenues of the municipality are collected and that municipal funds are applied in accordance with law or ordinance to the payment of expenses and settlement of obligations of the municipality” and “(4) Ensure the delivery of basic services and the provision of adequate facilities as provided for under Section 17 of this Code…” ( Section 444 ).

    Though the permit to extract sand, gravel and other quarry resources is issued exclusively by the Provincial Governor, the Municipal Mayor has also the duty to:

    “(3)… (vii) Adopt adequate measures to safeguard and conserve land, mineral, marine, forest, and other resources of the municipality; provide efficient and effective property and supply management in the municipality; and protect the funds, credits, rights and other properties of the municipality;…” (Section 444, (3)…(vii) ).

    Hence, the Municipal Mayor has the legal option to back his/her position when he/she is convinced that the quarrying taking place does visible damage to the ecological balance or bring the affected inhabitants in danger in any form whatsoever.

    (Comment to be continued…)

    jun asuncion
    proceso maglaya January 12, 2009 at 12:55 am
    ang tunay na issue diyan kwarta nag kaingitan lang an mga politiko .siguro may diri nabahinan kaya nag ribok.pag sala ako pwede na ako mag migrate sa japan ,maupod na ako sa bata ko na japayuki.kunwari nagmamakulog sa enviroment pero an totoo wara kaintra sa barahin hakhakhak.
    mabuhay an mga politiko dahil sira intero an dahilan san pagsakit san mga tawo.

    J.A. Carizo January 12, 2009 at 4:38 pm
    Ayos an komento ni Mr. Maglaya, ah. This reminds me of the tele-series “Money War” in GMA-7 every weeknights. Ilingon nindo ta matapos an gabos, gadan man sana an bida na si Noah Geum (Geum Na Ra in Korean) dahil sa kwarta.

    Pero warang madaog sa babaing bida (portrayed by Park Jin Hee) na an motto: SMILE!

    Smile lang po kita gabos. Sorry po sa pagtatao nin spoilers lalo na sa mga nag-aabang kada banggui

    ramon garra September 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm
    Thanks Jun for reminding the good mayor of her supposed duty. Unfortunately, the position paper remains so much to be desired as far as the lady mayor’s care for the environment. Is it not the municipality issues Mayor’s Permit to this activity too? Wonder who are the people behind this quarrying operation? Alexandra Mining & Oil Ventures listed Magnetic Sand Projects in Bulan and Sta. Magdalena as one of its ongoing projects. I have read their PDF file through the Net (this file cannot be accessed anymore, but i was able to download that prior to its restriction).

    September 15, 2010 at 6:30 am
    Thanks Ramon for digging up this issue again. We are really concerned about this and would like to get an update of this issue from our municipal officials.

    Otherwise everybody is welcome to post here any relevant documents (publications, photos, videos, etc.) to this margaja issue.

    Like Ramon, help us sustain this site with your active participation for it’s not about me but about our town Bulan. Remember our goal of building up a huge Bulan Netizens of observers, or a Global Community of Bulan Observers.

    Bulan Observer’s existence depends very much on each concerned Tagabulan around the globe.

    I guess we are the only town in the Philippines with such a net platform where we openly communicate with one another and with our local officials.

    Thank you all for your time!

    jun asuncion

    • Thanks ramgarra for your efforts. Facebook should be used not for narcissistic things but for things that help in the furtherance of socio-political awareness, the struggle against corrupt local leaders and protection of local ecology.

      jun asuncion

  2. Dear All,
    There are quite a few glaring issues in the elegant report by Mr.Lariosa. CYANIDE, DEAD FISH,MAGNETITE. People need to know the truth, about the diffent minerals and the processing of. Magnetite is a low value mineral, even when processed to stage one. To be honest and not get bogged down in hidden agendas and dirty money. The dead fish are not related to magnetite as would be linked in the elegant report above. To be honest, one could make a sandwich, and sprinkle it with magnetite. The benifits would far out way the negatives. Magnetite is in partnership with sand, and basically very clean. There are ZERO chemicals used to take magnetite to stage one, and boost the price from around $15 ton to around a price of $52 ton. Basically Philippines magnetite has a high titanium content, so it is not really a high grade sort after mineral, but still has a value if mined and processed cheaply. Small scale or large scale magnetite processing to stage on is 100% the same, as all that is required is water and centrifical force and magnetic seperation.CHROMITE which is not mentioned is also INERT and uses the same primary system to take it to stage one. Magnetite does not KILL FISH OR PEOPLE. It is totally INERT. Gold processing KILLS all in its path, along with NICKEL. A close friend of mine, Filippino tried to set up a plant to process down South, but the Governor, The Bishop, Mayor, all set the up front money beyond what would allow him to keep his head above water. End result, 42 jobs never eventuated, The town never got to see any benifit, along with the country which screams out for honest investors willing to pay their way. The Philippines is a sad,evil, dirty business, beautiful country to stay away from when thinking of mining. I guess rice and the odd fish and chicken will remain the staple, while living in a grass hut for the forseeable future.
    Good bless. G.

      • “I guess rice and the odd fish and chicken will remain the staple, while living in a grass hut for the forseeable future…” Gary wald.

        Thanks Gary for your comment. A little sarcasm is sometimes needed to break the monotony and ignite some reactions.

        To go straight, the issue here is not really about anti-mining industry but about corruption among local politicians and even the Catholic Church- “the Governor, The Bishop, Mayor, all set the up front money beyond what would allow him to keep his head above water. End result, 42 jobs never eventuated” as you have written above.

        The people are against local mining because they don’t benefit from it but only these corrupt governors and mayors. Corruption in the government is double-edged: it supports bad investors and discourages the good and honest ones like your Filipino friend. So either way, corruption doesn’t benefit the local economy and ecology as in the case of Sorsogon, Bulan and Matnog.

        There is still a desperate need in the towns of Sorsogon and of the whole Bicol region for good governance, for accountability transparency and respect to the rule of law. Our mayors can not say no to monetary offers from the governor whose intrinsic motivation is not really to serve the people and the local economy but in illegal government transactions so as to enrich himself and his kin. If the UN study says that the Philippines ranks fourth among the most corrupt 16 Southeast Asian countries, then we “congratulate” the provincial governor, the mayor of Matnog and Bulan for their contributions to this “magnetite” medal award- an attest to their unswerving personal commitment to bad governance.

        Now, back to your rice, odd fish and chicken. I was in town just recently and had eaten plenty of rice and chicken but not a single odd fish for- though poor as we many Filipinos are- we are civilized people and practice neither cannibalism nor eat chicken sandwiches sprinkled with magnetite sands. These are things we refused to learn from the West, out of decency. Another thing, there is no single odd fish in the waters of the Philippine archipelago. An odd fish is not a fish but an unusual human being- like a corrupt governor, mayor or bishop- so it doesn’t serve as “staple food” in the Philippines even if we have it in abundance. But we wish to see these corrupt politicians living not in such idyllic grass huts designed for freedom-loving people in the foreseeable future but in jails with metals and locks made in the West.

        jun asuncion

  3. If it was sarcasm, then it wasn’t sarcasm at its best. It’s either an indignant attempt to show ethnocentrism (if not xenophobia), or it’s an honest mistake in language use and usage.

    Either way, the piece made me realize AGAIN how a person can make people confused—intentionally or not– by using words or phrases which are vague and/or ambiguous (lexically, semantically, or syntactically).

    The phrase “odd fish,”when used idiomatically, of course, means “someone regarded as eccentric or crazy and standing out from a group.” So, Jun wittingly took that as a way of firing back–rhetorically. Definitely, we’re not cannibals.

    But if Gary used the attributive adjective “odd” in order to modify a specific fish, (as evidenced by the use of the definite article)which he thinks looks unusual, then he should have used another adjective to avoid ambiguity.

    Perhaps a corrigendum—not an erratum– should be in order.

    • Although sarcasm is very much related to irony, I guess such a bitter remark as living on grass huts (which means nothing but primitive in reference to the Filipino people), has nothing more to do with irony since irony is saying the contrary to what is meant but is a straightforward ridicule of sarcastic and arrogant in nature. I mean it’s understable for a Westerner to be disgusted with our system as we also are disgusted with it. But still, a critical remark even when the motivation is good should be wisely chosen to avoid bitter generalization and punish more those victims of corruption, namely, the poor people who are actually living on grass huts.

      Sarcasm is detectable usually in spoken word, hence, usually goes unnoticed in written form. This odd fish might have been used without intention of derision but placed within the context of his whole text which is about corruption and utter ignorance of the people and of Mr. Lariosa on the subject of margaja and add to that his (negative) emotional situation arising from such Philippine experience, it may as well be possible that this odd fish was used with intention to mean primitive since cannibalism is found mostly (but not all) in very primitive societies whose people usually dwell in caves or even grass huts.

      With or without intention, fish-eater or not, for me it is still wrong to call any fish that feeds the poor people as odd. It’s against nature and arrogant in attitude.

      jun asuncion

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