TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines — In a rare display of unity, outgoing Batangas Governor Armand Sanchez and his political archenemy, Vice Governor Richard Recto, on Monday voiced opposition to the plan of a Korean company to put up a spa near the crater of Taal Volcano in Talisay, Batangas.
Tagaytay Mayor Abraham Tolentino also objected to the project.
“If Taal Volcano was under my administrative authority, I would have scrapped that project even during its initial phase,” Tolentino told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net. “Any construction there would be disastrous not only for the environment but for the people around the volcano,”
Speaking through his provincial administrator, Ronaldo Geron, Sanchez expressed his concern over the effects of the ambitious project of the Korean company Jung Ang Interventure Inc. on small fishermen and farmers residing on the volcano island.
Sanchez said he was surprised that the municipality of Talisay has issued permits for the planned construction of a high-end spa and wellness center only meters away from the volcano’s crater, Geron said.
Geron said the governor immediately ordered the provincial environment office to investigate how the foreign company was able to get hold of supposed ownership documents for land on the volcano island.
Sanchez, he said, also personally instructed provincial environment officer Evelyn Espegoy to find out if the project would violate environmental laws and ordinances of Batangas.
“The governor wanted to check if the lands supposedly purchased by the foreign entity have been reclassified from agricultural to commercial to serve its intended use,” Geron said in a mobile phone interview.
Recto, on the other hand, lambasted Talisay officials for issuing permits to the Koreans without obtaining the necessary clearances from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board). He called the project highly anomalous and questionable.
“As the law says, the provincial council has the authority to review all the agreements and documents issued by the municipalities regarding the reclassification of the lands and development permits,” Recto said in a separate phone conversation.
Recto, who lost his congressional race in the third district of the province, claimed Talisay officials are “notorious” for disregarding the provincial capitol in issuing development permits in their town.
Geron supported Recto’s claims, saying officials of Talisay municipal government and the Korean firm did not submit documents to the provincial government for approval of the project.
“Unfortunately, we cannot do any review regarding it as we do not have any documents about that planned construction of [the] spa,” Geron said.
Recto and Sanchez have been engaged in a word war since 2004 after the former accused the latter of being behind illegal gambling operations in the province and corruption at the capitol.
Sanchez has denied the charges.
In turn, he has filed murder and frustrated murder against the vice governor, whom he accuses of masterminding the bomb attempt on his life, in which Sanchez’ driver and an aide were killed and the governor seriously injured.
Meanwhile, Tagaytay Mayor Tolentino said he would file a formal opposition to the development plans on the volcano island.
Tolentino specifically opposed the Korean firm’s idea of constructing an elevator to give tourists a view of the volcano’s crater.
He also noted that the whole island of Taal Volcano is a declared national park.
“We must conserve, not destroy, the beauty of our environment,” he added.
The scenic beauty of Taal Volcano as seen from the ridges of Tagaytay is one of the reasons why this small city has become one of the most visited places in the country.