BAGUIO CITY — A treasure hunter asked the local government to allow him to dig up alleged truckloads of gold believed to be part of the World War II loot supposedly left by Japanese forces in a tunnel between the Baguio Convention Center and the University of the Philippines-Baguio residence hall for girls.
Eliseo Cabusao Jr. who has written the city to exempt him from a local law banning treasure hunting, reportedly got a go signal from the National Museum last October to look for treasure signed by Director Jeremy Barns in a “Treasure Hunting and Disposition of Recovered Treasures” permit. The permit's effectivity lasts for a year.
“When I sought the permit, I was not aware of the prohibition, otherwise I would have sought first an exemption consideration from the city government,” Cabusao said.
The treasure hunter has assured the city government that there would be minimal ground disturbance if extraction is approved.
He has also pledged a 50 percent share to the national government and to the city “considering the contribution of his (expedition) to the country’s reserves once the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) appropriates the gold.” He added that 30 percent of their share will be allocated for humanitarian and development projects of affected communities through their foundation.
DENR: Illegal diggings pose hazards
For more than 70 years, treasure hunters are still searching for the Yamashita treasure said to be hidden somewhere in the Cordilleras, where Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has, however, recommended cease and desist orders (CDO’s) to all illegal treasure hunting ventures. The DENR warned that illegal diggings pose hazards to soil foundation and may lead to erosion.
But Cabusao argued that a 90-year old Baguio-born half Japanese man who has been a US resident since the mid 70’s had pointed to him the alleged location of the treasure.
“We have explored and detected around the convention center using different detecting tools and equipment and all converged on a small grassy area five meters from the concrete sidewalk toward the UP ladies dormitory,” Cabusao claimed.
He submitted to the city his retrieval plan reportedly approved by the National Museum with an Environmental and Technical Program attached.
The National Museum grants permits in accordance with the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 which requires Cabusao to post a P 250,000 performance bond provided he conforms to laws, rules and regulations regarding, among others, environmental protection including rehabilitation and remediation, labor, safety and health standards and the restoration of the to its original state as per submitted and approved Environmental Work and Programs.
The National Museum also dictates the permit holder that the operation should be confined at daytime and comply with any additional terms and conditions which the director may impose or requirements the museum may prescribe.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan, however, dissuaded the city council to approve Cabusao’s exemption request, saying that treasure hunters have only depleted their riches to look for the rumored Yamashita gold.
In 2005, The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR identified at least 14 illegal treasure hunters looking for hidden wealth in the city and the neighboring Benguet province.
Yamashita was the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines. He formally surrendered to Americans at Camp John Hay after heading to the Hungduan-Tinoc area in Ifugao.
Former Japanese soldiers have been frequenting Baguio and the neighboring provinces in search for buried treasure. Treasure maps also abound claiming to lead to the Yamashita gold inviting the curious to fund treasure expeditions in the region.