In what is virtually a can of worms opened, millions of pesos in ghost reforestation projects stink along the San Roque Multipurpose Dam-associated projects in Itogon, Benguet.
BY ACE ALEGRE
Itogon, Benguet (200 kilometers north of Manila) – In what is virtually a can of worms opened, millions of pesos in ghost reforestation projects stink along the San Roque Multipurpose Dam-associated projects here.
Payments for ghost reforestation projects and other livelihood programs since 2006 have highlighted the “social engineering” packages surrounding the controversial dam project.
Itogon residents, most of whom in the past had second thoughts about giving their consent to the dam project because of its social, cultural, environmental and livelihood effects, said their complaints about the ghost projects have landed on deaf ears at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Itogon is the headwater of the Agno River, the source of the still controversial dam project which is the second biggest dam in Southeast Asia.
According to Itogon residents, while projects and funds are being manipulated by officers of the Barangay (village) Entrepreneurs Association (BEA) of Virac in collusion with those in the Itogon Integrated Watershed Management Program (IIWMP), their own accomplished activities on agro-reforestation since 2006 and other livelihood programs remain unpaid-for to date.
This was aside from the alleged payment for ghost reforestation projects and existing check dams in the area, which were merely “repaired” and paid.
Former Itogon councilor Jerry Bruno said they want an honest investigation of irregularities in the IIWMP which have cost government millions in wasted funds.
Bruno narrated that he himself was subcontracted by BEA to reforest an estimated five hectares of land in Virac for P94,000 ($1,944 at the May 2, 2009 exchange rate of $1=P48.35) but was paid only P5,000 ($103)
But another group, he said, was contracted to reforest a 14-hectare area within the Sierra Oro mine site, also within Itogon, and was paid millions of pesos without any single pine tree planted.
“They ordered some people to take photos of existing pine stands in adjoining areas and these pictures were submitted to facilitate their payment for not doing anything,” he said.
Bruno and other residents further said that after they built a check dam along the gorge between the lower portion of their barangay and the Sierra Oro area several years ago, other BEA members merely topped it up with a little cement and built 14 other substandard ones near it to be able to collect a large amount of money from the government through the IIWMP.
“What the government paid for were not check dams but mere dry walls with only thin layers of cement which would crumble at the lightest storm and downpour,” Bruno said.
In a manifesto, the residents led by Bruno said “the report of the technical staff of the DENR-Cordillera on these issues did not provide intelligible answers.”
Earlier, residents petitioned for but failed to effect a momentary suspension of the IIWMP’s activities pending a satisfactory response to the issues pertaining to the ghost reforestation projects. These issues had reached the barangay council of Virac, the Itogon Municipal Council, and the DENR as well as Benguet Rep. Samuel Dangwa and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).(Bulatlat.com)