Lopez-owned firm says quarrying site in Batangas not yet operational

BATANGAS, Philippines – Ahead of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez's confirmation hearing this week, one of her family's companies again denied it is involved in an illegal mining operation in Batangas.  

"First Balfour is a reputable engineering and construction firm; it's not a mining company and is not currently engaged in any mining or quarrying operation," First Balfour President and COO Anthony Paul Fernandez said in a statement Sunday, April 30.

Fernandez said the photos shared by Carlo Arcilla of an operating quarrying site in Taysan, Batangas "does not belong to First Balfour but to a separate, unrelated company."

The company, Montevil Trading Corporation, wrote in a letter to Noemi Paranada – regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau in Calabarzon – to say they have secured "appropriate business permits, [environmental compliance certificate], and quarry permit" under their own business name.

"We are not, in any way, connected in any commercial or partnership with First Balfour Corporation operations of quarrying and crushing," the letter read.

A March 22 memorandum from DENR-EMB in Calabarzon also noted that "based on documents secured from the quarry operator and Provincial Government of Batangas, the First Balfour does not operate a quarry project in Taysan, Batangas. All backfill materials are supplied by the Montevil Trading."

Arcilla is one of the 23 oppositors to Lopez's confirmation as environment secretary.

During a March 8 hearing at the Commission on Appointments (CA), Arcilla of the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society and the University of the Philippines' National Institute of Geological Sciences said First Balfour "is mining aggregates in a watershed" in Lobo, Batangas.

CA hearing 

On Sunday Fernandez admitted that First Balfour's wholly owned subsidiary Torreverde Corporation has a pending application for a quarrying permit in Taysan filed in April 2016 with the Batangas provincial government.

"But in compliance with the law, First Balfour has not begun any operation pending the approval of the provincial permit, which as of this writing has not yet been granted."

Torreverde Corporation entered into an operating agreement with Montevil Trading Corporation, who owns the land in Taysan, according to Torreverde Corporation operations head Emmanuel Balamban.

Reporters on Sunday went to Torreverde Corporation's proposed quarrying site in Taysan, Batangas – approximately 125 meters away from Montevil's quarrying site. 

There were no ongoing quarrying operations on the site, but a retaining wall already exists in the area,  built in 2016 to prevent a landslide from happening in the area.

First Balfour's statement came just days after Lopez on Thursday, April 27, signed an administrative order banning "prospective" open-pit mines in the country. The order did not include quarrying.

Lopez will again face the powerful CA on Tuesday, May 2. (READ: Are the odds stacked against Gina Lopez in the CA?)

The CA had earlier bypassed the appointment of Lopez, who was reappointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The President had expressed his strong support for the controversial Cabinet official whose appointment is being contested by mining groups. 

Lopez is also at odds with some Cabinet members, particularly Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, over her decision to suspend and shut down some mining operations based on a DENR audit. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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