WAS there a cover-up?
Hiladio Mabunay, 66-year-old caretaker, pointed to traces of black ash on the edge of mounds in the three-hectare lot in barangay Canlumampaw, Toledo City yesterday.
He admitted that the mountain of coal ash was covered with soil weeks before yesterday?s court-ordered inspection of the site.
Mabunay told environmenalists and representatives from power companies about the recent activity as Regional Trial Court Judge Marilyn Yap of Branch 28 in Mandaue city led the ocular inspection of nine barangays in Toledo and Naga yesterday.
?Yes, some of these areas were recently dumped with soil,? Mabunay said in Cebuano when asked why there were many tire tracks in the area.
He said he has been the caretaker of the lot for about 10 years. The lot is part of an 81-hectare farm of an individual.
Mabunay said the landowner asked for the area to be covered with filling material since it is prone to damage which afffects their rootcrops and cows.
? The coal ash actually helped in our livelihood, and has no health hazards as far as I?m concened,? he said in Cebuano.
But the power company dismissed allegations they filled the site with top soil to conceal the coal ash.
?We have been dumping topsoil here for quite sometime. We continually reclaim it with topsoil as part of our monitoring of the ash sites,? said Leah Diaz, assistant vice president, Plant Support Services, Toledo Power Company and Cebu Energy Development Corp. (TPC-CEDC).
She said the topsoil is eroded by water and wind thus it needs to be consistently dumped with top soil.
?We put it when necessary. All other areas are like that,? Diaz said.
Yap took photos of the coal ash which has been covered with soil. Though all has been covered, some coal ash wastes are still found beyond the top soil.
The black coal ash has already hardened underneath the soil. Grasses have also grown on coal ash sites dumped with top soil.
The Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) took samples from the sites visited by the team.
Lawyer Trannie Ferrer of the DENR said they took one kilogram sample of coal ash waste from every site.
She said the coal ash samples would be sent to the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Manila for toxicity tests.
?The testing will be conducted there so as not to compromise the integrity of the result,? Ferrer said.
Mandaue City RTC Branch 28 sheriff Julbert Opada also gathered samples for the court.
But he said the DENR is the authorized agency to conduct the testing.
Ferrer said that if the private defendants will pass the standard, then it will prove that they followed the requirement of the law.
The inspection was conducted in barangays Ilihan, Luray, Dumlog, Kanlumampaw and the Toledo Power Plant in Toledo City and in barangays Pangdan, Tinaan, West Poblacion , Central Poblacion and Colon in Naga where the Salcon and Kepco power plants are located.
Among the coal ash sites pointed out by the environmentalists, one ran along a river and a ricefield, while another is adjacent to a primary school and near a water pump, which was allegedly contaminated by the toxicity of coal ash.
Lawyer Gloria Ramos, one of the petitioners representing the Philippine Earth Justice System said she was pleased with the ocular inspection.
?This is the first time a judge personally checked coal ash sites,? she said.
On Nov. 30, both parties will visit the coal ash pond of the Toledo Power Corp., which was not included in yesterday's ocular visit due to time constraints.
The ocular inspection was agreed by both parties as part of the hearing of an environmental protection order to stop the dumping of coal ash in public areas.