Nat’l Museum may cancel Igbaras ‘treasure hunt’ permit

ILOILO – The National Museum of the Philippines confirmed having issued a “Treasure Hunting and Disposition of Recovered Treasures Permit” covering a private lot in Barangay Pasong, Igbaras, Iloilo.

It may cancel the permit if the conditions for its issuance were not met, said Atty. Ma.  Cecilia Tirol, acting deputy director-general for administration of the National Museum.

The ongoing excavation in Barangay Pasong alarmed residents. They feared possible adverse effects such as landslide, soil erosion and the earth caving in.

“I already asked the chief of the National Museum’s Cultural Properties Regulation Division to evaluate if kinahanglan i-cancel ang permit. I-cancel ina kun damo violations,” said Tirol.

Led by Igbaras’ Mayor Jaime Esmeralda, barangay officials of Pasong sought the help of Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. on Jan 16. Some residents said the diggers were looking for the buried gold treasures of World War 2 Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita.

“We have rules. The permit may be cancelled if the excavation has adverse environmental impacts and endangers neighboring areas. It is within the powers of the museum to suspend or revoke the permit when public interest so requires or upon the failure of the permit holder to comply with the terms and conditions,” said Tirol.

The terms and conditions were the following:

* THP (treasure hunting permit) is exclusive to the Permit Holder (non-transferrable)

* Permit Area subject to inspection

* PH (permit holder) shall not destroy any building or structure

* PH shall submit quarterly report on the progress of treasure hunting activities as per Technical Work and Environmental Work Programs

* PH shall notify the agency within 24 hours of their discovery

* PH is liable for damages incurred during the operations

* Permit is valid for one year

* Must abide with laws, rules and regulations on treasure hunting

* Withdrawal by the Permit Holder from the Permit Area shall not release him from all financial, environmental, legal and other obligations

According to Tirol, treasure hunting is not allowed in the following:

* cave sites within 500 meters from the mouth of the cave, archaeological and/or declared historical zones, and anthropological reservations

* shipwreck sites

* archaeological sites

Tirol also pointed out guidelines covering public lots, protected areas and private lots as treasure hunting sites:

* public lots – the permit applicant must first secure a clearance from the local government

* protected areas – the permit applicant must first secure a clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

* private lot – clearance from local government unit not needed but applicant must seek the consent of private lot owner

Tirol stressed the importance of local government units coordinating with the National Museum if they have concerns over treasure hunting activities which the agency had issued permits.

“I learned that the excavation has been going on for about one and half years already beginning in 2018 before I was elected mayor. Residents fear this could result to soil erosion. Nine nearby households are very concerned,” said Igbaras’ Mayor Jaime Esmeralda.

According to the mayor, around 10 diggers have so far covered 1,000 square meters.

From what he had gathered, said Esmeralda, a certain Noly Laquihon Bayogos claimed to have secured a “Treasure Hunting and Disposition of Recovered Treasures Permit” from the National Museum.

As far as the municipal government of Igbaras and barangay council of Pasong were concerned, said Esmeralda, they have not issued any permit for treasure hunting, ground excavation or mining in the village.

For his part, Barangay Captain Cornelio Elumba of Pasong dismissed speculations there could be Yamashita treasures buried in his village.

“Kon tuod nga may ara, kontani damo nga mal-am ang mahambal sina,” he said.

Yamashita was assigned to defend the Japan-colonized Philippines from the advancing Allied forces in the waning years of World War 2. He failed to stop the Allied advance, and Japan ultimately surrendered in August 1945.

Before his Philippine assignment, Yamashita and his men were said to have plundered other Southeast Asian countries that Japan attacked and/or invaded during the war and buried the loot in the Philippines./PN


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