By Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Mauban, Quezon
PHILIPPINES - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local government officials have ordered a Manila-based treasure hunters’ group to stop excavating a hilly part of Mauban town in Quezon facing the Lamon Bay after worried residents staged a protest on Wednesday.
Carrying a letter from the National Museum, Mauban Mayor Fernando Llamas and local environment Chief Alfredo Palencia were accompanied by policemen when they destroyed the padlock of a bamboo gate of the treasure hunting site in Sitio (sub-village) Swa in Barangay (village) Daungan.
The digging has long been the subject of complaints in the neighborhood. Residents who gathered in front of the site shouted with glee when the authorities forcibly entered the site.
“We already stopped digging,” said a certain Rolando Mendieta, who owns the 90-square-meter lot. He told the officials that the nine diggers had left two days ago.
They had already reached a depth of more than 50 feet and were starting to excavate horizontally to create tunnels on the base of the hill, Mendieta said.
A hole in the ground inside a makeshift hut was the sole entrance while an improvised steel ladder reached the bottom. A plastic pipe provides air beneath the ground.
Palencia said Mendieta’s admission was a sufficient ground to cancel the excavation permit. “They are only allowed up to 40 ft deep,” he said.
“With these admitted violations, the local government is now justified in closing the digging site for the safety of the residents,” Llamas said.
Documents obtained from the local government showed that permits were granted on May 9 by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to Cabanisas Credit Corp., with office address in Pasay City, to excavate the area.
“The noise of the diggings even at night was really disturbing. We were also afraid that their continuous excavation could loosen the hill and cause a landslide during heavy rains,” said Rosa Banagan, one of the residents.
Llamas said the treasure hunters had also struck the water source of the neighborhood.
The mayor said he had already asked Malacañang to revoke their permits based on findings of the local government’s Task Force Kalikasan.
He said the treasure hunters also failed to secure local government and barangay permits as stipulated in the permits issued by the national government.
Mendieta said he was promised by a certain Nora Hernandez, one of the proprietors of Cabanisas Credit, of a substantial share from the fabled treasure left behind by Japanese forces led by General Yamashita.
Japanese soldiers who invaded the Philippines during World War II landed in three towns in Quezon—Mauban, Plaridel (then Siain) and Atimonan—all fronting the Pacific Ocean.
“I allowed them to dig in my lot because I have nothing to lose but a lot to earn from my part of the treasure. Besides, they showed me several government permits,” Mendieta said.
However, he said that after almost a year of fruitless digging, he was starting to lose hope of becoming rich someday.
“I have yet to hear of a dug-up Yamashita treasure in our town,” Llamas said.
Courtesy Inquirer Southern Luzon