Manila: A Philippine governor is facing trial over alleged illegal black sand mining operations on the shores of Lingayen Gulf, the anti-graft watchdog’s office said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said the governor of Pangasinan, Amado Espino Jr, could be held accountable for violating the country’s anti-graft law after he allowed mining companies and contractors to excavate magnetite and other minerals in a government-declared “protected” area.

Black sand, which comes from volcanic soil, is being mined for magnetite, a naturally-occurring oxide of iron that has wide applications.

Espino, 59, allegedly issued permits to two private contractors, Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures, Inc. (AMOVI) and Xypher Builders, Inc. (XBI) to conduct operations in the village of Sabangan in Pangasinan’s Lingayen town despite the fact that the area had been declared under government protection.

Espino is a former official of the Philippine National Police and is a graduate of the state-run Philippine Military Academy. He was a member of the Aksyon Demokratiko political party.

Aside from Espino, also charged were provincial administrator Rafael Baraan and provincial housing and urban development coordinating officer Alvin Bigay. Likewise, members of the board of directors of Amovi and XBI were also named on the charge sheet.

“AMOVI and XBI were given unwarranted benefits by the respondent public officials resulting to the loss of minerals in the amount of P10,750,000, (Dh855,918),” the Ombudsman said.

The office of the Environmental Ombudsman had earlier recommended the filing of two counts of violation of anti-graft and corrupt practices law against Espino and others for issuing government permits to AMOVI and XBI despite the lack of Environment Compliance Certificate and non-registration of AMOVI and XBI with the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board.

Under Presidential Proclamation No. 1258, the Lingayen Gulf, along with 184 hectares that cover the villages of Sabangan, Estanza, Malimpuec and Capandanan, were declared by former President Fidel Ramos as environmentally critical areas in 1998.

Mining resources in the Philippines have been the subject of exploitation by foreign entities who often conduct mining operations without providing benefits to local populace. Many of the people living in surrounding areas are subject to environmental hazards caused by mining activities.

The possible indictment of Espino came almost a year after the governor of Zambales, former Philippine National Police Director General Hermogenes Ebdane.

Ebdane, who was among the trusted police generals of former President Gloria Arroyo, was indicted in June last year for allegedly colluding with a foreign firm to steal the country’s mineral resources.

Carpio Morales had said that Governor Ebdane of Zambales usurped the functions of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board when he issued a Small-Scale Mining Permit without necessary authority to a Chinese firm engaged in mining chromium in the province.