WHAT was originally an excavation for a septic tank turned into an illegal treasure hunt after some residents of Sitio Hawaiian, Brgy. Marigondon in Lapu-Lapu City claimed to have found signs pointing to an unknown treasure.
Three people, who initiated the excavation, were invited to appear before the Lapu-Lapu City Police Station 4. They are Florida Fortaliza, Edward Mangubat Caro and Ryan Fortaliza.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan and Police Colonel Arnel Banzon, head of the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office, inspected the site Friday morning, Jan. 15, 2021, after reports about the excavation reached the Mayor’s Office.
The hole, with a depth of at least 10 feet, was covered with a wooden board, a sofa and other materials.
Chan said the hole appeared to be bigger than what is normally required for a septic tank.
“We saw that what they did was not for an ordinary septic tank. It is clear that they are looking for something. It is possible that this is a treasure hunt,” Chan said, citing the ladders that were found in the hole.
Florida Fortaliza initially denied that they were looking for treasure.
She said they started digging in September 2019 to construct a septic tank that would benefit five households in the area.
“That’s not treasure hunting. That’s for our drainage,” she said.
Fortaliza said personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Solid Waste Management Office of Lapu-Lapu City already inspected the site and ordered them to stop digging.
Fortaliza said they stopped excavating in May 2020.
As Chan relentlessly questioned her, she admitted that the purpose of the excavation shifted to treasure hunting after they found signs pointing to a treasure that may have been buried in the area.
“That should have been a septic tank. But we saw some signs of a treasure. So we continued digging,” she said.
She showed the mayor some documents, including one that says “treasure under.”
No permit has been issued for the excavation.
Lawyer James Sayson of the Lapu-Lapu City Legal Office, said any excavation needs a permit from the DENR.
“Application for a permit is a tedious process. If a treasure is found other than heritage or cultural items, the government would get a bigger share,” Sayson said.
Among others, he said those who dug the hole are required to restore it. In mining, permittees are required to restore and rehabilitate the mined out area when the resources are already depleted.
Sayson said he was not certain about the penalties that await those who conduct illegal excavations such as the one in Sitio Hawaiian.
Aside from investigating the illegal treasure hunt, Banzon said they will also look into the security aspects of such activities.
“If there is no permit, any treasure hunt is illegal. We can’t just arbitrarily dig anywhere just because we think there is a treasure,” he said. / NDT