By Lalaine M. Jimenea
THE SANGGUNIANG PANLALAWIGAN of Leyte, during its February 3 regular session, has issued an order to the mayor of Palompon, his vice-mayor and a member of the Sangguniang Bayan, to answer an administrative complaint filed against them for alleged oppression, harassment, misconduct in office and abuse of authority. The complaint was filed against Mayor Eulogio Tupa, vice-mayor Lloyd Surigao and his law partner Jesus Villardo III, a town councilor by the management of Pheschem Industrial Corporation or Pheschem, a lime quarry and manufacturing plant which has been operating in the town for the past 24 years, and its biggest industry and employer.
Pheschem, represented by management personnel Teotimo R. Andales and Roel T. Sevilla, is asking the provincial government to suspend the three officials, and remove them from office if found guilty. The two complainants enumerated in their complaint the various alleged abusive acts of the three since they came into power in 2007, reportedly affecting the operations of the plant resulting to work stoppage and millions of losses.
The two related that the plant has been operating in Palompon for 24 years, and has had a “peaceful and harmonious relation” with the locals. It does not only provide employment to locals but also provides livelihood to thousands of coconut farmers as far as Calubian on the north, Carigara on the east and Albuera on the south, where they purchase truckloads of coconut shells for fuel.
However, the complaint continued, they began having difficulties in 2007, after the new administration of Tupa and Surigao came in. Their woes, the complainants said, started in July 2007 when furniture businessman Eddie Longcanaya of Brgy. Liberty allegedly requested a plant foreman to allow a truckload of lumber to pass through Pheschem’s quarry site. Roel Sevilla, the plant foreman, refused because he was afraid they would get into trouble with DENR. Longcanaya, said to be a close ally of the Tupa administration, won as barangay chairman the next year or on May 2008. When he became barangay chairman, he then asked Pheschem P100.00 for each dump truck that goes inside the quarry zone. Pheschem then countered that they would pay if there is an ordinance or resolution covering the collection, so the revenues would go to the official coffers. However, there was none and they reported the actuations of Longcanaya to vice-mayor Surigao, who was acting mayor at the time as the mayor was abroad on official leave.
Vice-mayor Surigao reportedly called a dialogue in response to their complaint, but to their surprise, “the dialogue did not take up and resolve Pheschem’s complaint”. “It rather took up other matters such as Pheschem’s alleged environmental, mining, and labor laws violations.” Fortunately, the complainants added, representatives of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), refuted all these alleged violations.
Pheschem’s troubles did not stop there, though. On May 2008, barangay chairman Longcanaya allegedly led residents on a picket to block Pheschem’s quarry operations.
On June 2, 2008, the town council itself issued an omnibus opposition to “any and all re-application” of the plant’s mining permits to include Environmental Compliance Certificate, business licenses or mayor’s permit. The matter was acted on the national agencies involved like the EMB which said they cannot deny the re-application for ECC as long as the plant has “substantially complied” with their requirements. During this period, the blockade at Brgy Liberty continued, without the town officials allegedly lifting a finger. In order for their business to survive, the company then looked for other options or quarry areas to mine. They found a suitable sited at the land of Ben Campos, in Brgy. Cantandoy. However, they were allegedly ordered by vice-mayor Surigao to stop their operations there, but obtain a clearance from CENRO first. “But Pheschem later on discovered that Vice Mayor Surigao had singled-out the company with this cease and desist order. While he ordered Pheschem to stop its hauling activity, he did not issue an identical order to other individuals who were allowed or tolerated to continue taking out limestone materials from Mr. Campos’ property”, the complaint states. Meanwhile, the plant also got another offer from a property owner in Brgy. San Miguel, Jess Tangob, who said he already had the required CENRO clearance. However, Pheschem was ordered to stop again. This time, Mayor Tupa returned from abroad and on July 14, 2008, issued another Cease and Desist order. Pheschem writes a letter of reconsideration but was denied. Pheschem, on the other hand, elevated the matter to the Office of the Government which has the power to issue a quarry permit. But the Office of the Mayor questioned the governor’s quarry permit, claiming this was issued to Teotimo Andales and not Pheschem. The permit was again transferred, this time to the name of Pheschem. Nonetheless, the same permit again was questioned by the mayor’s office. On November 4, 2008, the office of the governor issues another permit, this time to conform with the mayor’s standards. However, despite the permit, Pheschem’s two dump trucks were apprehended some two weeks later by a team headed by councilor Villardo, former provincial board member and incumbent municipal environment officer Herville Pajaron. It was impounded and despite appeals from management to have it released, was refused. Instead, Pheschem was handed a copy of a municipal resolution “strongly requesting the office of the mayor to cancel the mayor’s permit and/or business license” issued to Pheschem.
There was also an alleged demand forwarded to the plant for some P700,000.00 in past cost of living allowance for its workers, and one month separation pay per year of service for its employees. The demand, stated the complaint, shocked the management, as they hd no plans in closing down. They also had no pending labor disputes, a matter confirmed by the DOLE itself in a certification issued. The “unending oppression, harassment and abuse of public office” then forced Pheschem to seek the intervention of the Court. In December last year, they filed for a temporary restraining order an issuance of permanent injunction against the concerned town officials, which was granted. Despite the Court order, on January 6, this year, the vice-mayor and his cohorts reportedly ignored it and again entered Pheschem’s quarry site in Brgy. San Miguel to stop their operations. Pheschem has reportedly asked the Court to put the officials in contempt, but this has reportedly have yet to be acted by the Court yet as there is a new acting judge, in lieu of Judge Celso Mantua who has retired.