Chiongs cry ‘pol­i­tick­ing’

The Freeman - - FRONT PAGE - Grace Me­lanie I. La­camiento May B. Mi­asco Lor­raine Mitzi A. Am­brad Staff Mem­bers

A day af­ter a P4.5bil­lion class suit was filed against the city govern­ment of Naga and five other en­ti­ties in the wake of the deadly land­slide in Barangay Ti­naan, Mayor Kris­tine Chiong un­leashed her fury against those she called “op­por­tunists.”

Chiong said while res­i­dents are en­ti­tled to seek jus­tice in any venue, she also ad­vised them to be “care­ful of op­por­tunists who give them false hope and ex­ploit their predica­ment to ad­vance their per­sonal in­ter­ests.”

“Like the likes of some­one who claims to be a ‘con­cerned cit­i­zen' nga in ev­ery is­sue against the city ad­min­is­tra­tion mosakay bisan wala apek­tahi sama karon sa land­slide,” she told The FREE­MAN in a text mes­sage yes­ter­day.

Chiong, said she has yet to re­ceive a copy of the com­plaint, did not reply when asked to name the “con­cerned cit­i­zen.”

Her re­marks came a day af­ter 39 res­i­dents filed a com­plaint be­fore the Re­gional Trial Court in Naga against CEMEX Hold­ings Philip­pines Inc., Apo Land and Quarry Corp., Apo Ce­ment Corp., Mines and Geo­sciences Bureau- 7, the city govern­ment, and the Cebu pro­vin­cial govern­ment.

The 39 res­i­dents claim hav­ing gen­eral in­ter­est in the case and are rep­re­sent­ing the land­slide vic­tims.

Two more com­plainants -- Naga res­i­dent Win­ley dela Fuente and Philip­pine Earth Jus­tice Cen­ter Inc. headed by en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer Ben­jamin Cabrido -- said they are su­ing in be­half of the next gen­er­a­tions of Filipinos.

QUES­TION­ABLE MO­TIVE?

In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view, for­mer Naga mayor Valde­mar Chiong, the in­cum­bent mayor's fa­ther, said he does not see an is­sue out of the class suit, echo­ing his daugh­ter state­ment that af­fected fam­i­lies al­ways have that right.

He even rec­og­nized Cabrido for de­fend­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

Nev­er­the­less, Valde­mar said there are peo­ple fa­cil­i­tat­ing in mak­ing up al­le­ga­tions against him. He specif­i­cally ques­tioned the role of dela Fuente in the class suit.

He said these peo­ple are al­ready “ir­rel­e­vant” since they do not carry a po­lit­i­cal strong­hold.

Sought for com­ment, Dela Fuente said Valde­mar's state­ment was ir­re­spon­si­ble for a for­mer mayor who has “a greater duty to take care of the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Dela Fuente re­called orig­i­nally hav­ing close re­la­tion­ship with Chiong that even­tu­ally turned sour when he be­came a vo­cal critic of the for­mer mayor's al­leged anom­alies.

Dela Fuente also said he joined in the class suit since he feels morally obliged to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment from the in­ter­ests of politi­cians and for the next gen­er­a­tions.

“Con­cerned lang ko unsa'y mahitabo if pa­dayon ang pag­guba nila sa ka­liku­pan sa Naga in par­tic­u­lar and Cebu prov­ince in gen­eral,” he said.

Dela Fuente said he has noth­ing against Kris­tine, de­scrib­ing her as a good per­son. He also clar­i­fied that he has no plans of en­ter­ing pol­i­tics.

Dela Fuente claimed be­ing a res­i­dent of Barangay South Pobla­cion, Naga for 45 years now, though his fam­ily is tem­po­rar­ily rent­ing in Cebu City.

Valde­mar, who is run­ning for mayor in 2019, mean­while, de­nied re­ports he al­legedly threat­ened to with­hold the cash as­sis­tance to land­slide vic­tims be­hind the class suit.

“Dili ni maayo tun­god kay it is dam­ag­ing on the part. Ni­lansar baya ko… ug dili na akong taras ang mang­hasi,” he told The FREE­MAN over a phone in­ter­view.

Mayor Kris­tine her­self be­lied the al­le­ga­tions on Wed­nes­day.

Now, Valde­mar is eye­ing to file charges against the peo­ple who de­famed his rep­u­ta­tion.

“I am talk­ing to lawyers right now to con­sult from them kon un­say an­gay nakong buha­ton,” he said.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, Valde­mar went to the Enan Chiong Ac­tiv­ity Cen­ter (ECAC) to speak to evac­uees and to clar­ify with them that the ear­lier re­ports were un­true.

‘WE’RE COM­PLI­ANT’

As of yes­ter­day, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment and the MGB-7 have not is­sued a state­ment re­gard­ing the class suit.

Gover­nor Hi­lario Da­vide III, in a state­ment fur­nished to The FREE­MAN by the Pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion Of­fice, said he has not re­ceived a copy of the com­plaint but ex­pressed that he re­spects the right of the res­i­dents to com­plain.

“We have yet to re­ceive a copy of the com­plaint, but then again it is any­one's right to file a com­plaint. On the other hand, as what I've un­der­stood based on news re­ports, the prov­ince was in­cluded in the case so that we can come up with a car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity sur­vey of main­land Cebu as it has au­thor­ity over small-scale min­ing oper­a­tions,” the state­ment read.

It fur­ther read: “Rest as­sured, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, through PENRO, is thor­ough and cau­tious in is­su­ing per­mits to smallscale min­ing com­pa­nies and we will con­tinue to do so to en­sure the safety of ev­ery­one. If that means com­ing up with a car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity sur­vey, we will.”

MGB-7 in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Mar­ian Codilla, for her part, said their of­fice can only speak in a proper fo­rum, such as dur­ing court pro­ceed­ings.

“We will only make the state­ment at the proper fo­rum… At the court, if there is a need for us to make a state­ment be­fore the court,” she said.

As for Apo Land and Quarry Corp., it main­tained that it has been re­li­giously fol­low­ing the law, stress­ing that the land­slide, which killed 78 peo­ple, was an act of na­ture.

“We find it very un­for­tu­nate, how­ever, that per­son­al­i­ties be­hind this ac­tion de­cided to pur­sue this case de­spite the clear find­ing of DENR tech­ni­cal ex­perts that the land­slide is a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non and not caused by quarry or min­ing oper­a­tions of APO Land & Quarry Cor­po­ra­tion. The ex­perts who con­ducted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion have con­cluded that the in­ci­dent was unique and may hap­pen in other ar­eas and even with­out quarry oper­a­tions,” ALQC spokesper­son Chito Ma­ni­ago said in a state­ment.

While ALQC vows to con­tinue giv­ing aid to re­ha­bil­i­tate the com­mu­nity, the com­pany also ex­pressed that it will ex­haust avail­able re­sources to de­fend it­self from the class suit.

“The land­slide in­ci­dent was be­yond any­one's con­trol and im­pacted the en­tire com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing our­selves and our stake­hold­ers. We want to as­sure the govern­ment and the peo­ple of Naga that we will con­tinue in our ef­forts to help in restor­ing nor­malcy in the com­mu­nity and in mit­i­gat­ing the ex­ist­ing risks at­ten­dant to the ge­o­logic haz­ards in the af­fected ar­eas,” Ma­ni­ago said.

The state­ment fur­ther said that ALQC re­spects the rights of those who filed the case to seek ju­di­cial re­lief.

How­ever, the firm em­pha­sized that the oper­a­tions it was un­der­tak­ing near the land­slide site have been com­pli­ant with all per­ti­nent laws, rules, and reg­u­la­tions. These oper­a­tions, it added, were also per­formed un­der the su­per­vi­sion and mon­i­tor­ing of var­i­ous govern­ment agen­cies, both lo­cal and na­tional lev­els.

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