By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Party-list groups Kalikasan and Kabataan and the No 2 Coal-Central Luzon (No2Coal-CL) alliance recently filed with the Supreme Court a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan against the construction of a 2×300 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The leaders of the said groups were joined by other legislators, local government officials and residents of Subic, Zambales, Olongapo and Bataan.
The proposed P56 billion ($1.33 billion) coal-fired power plant will be built at Mt. Redondo in Subic, Zambales. In 2010, a Lease Development Agreement for 40 hectares was signed between the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority(SBMA and Redondo Peninsula Energy (RPI). It was only last June 2012 when residents learned that RP Energy is planning to construct the said plant instead of the smaller 2×150 MW version, which was earlier announced.
The project started out with a Memorandum of Understanding between the SBMA and Taiwan Cogeneration in 2006. The agreement stated that the coal project would be a joint venture with SBMA and that it would adopt high environmental standards even as it will supposedly provide affordable power to the Freeport area, Olongapo City and the greater local community. The project terms, however, were changed when Taiwan CoGen was joined by Meralco and Aboitiz Power Corp in a consortium called Redondo Peninsula Energy, Inc.
In a Lease and Development Agreement with SBMA signed in June 2010, the supposed joint venture between the RP Energy and SBMA was reduced to a mere Leasor and Leesee relationship at the rate of $3.50 per square meter for a 50 year period. There are, however, no provisions on lower power rates for consumers in the entire contract.
Despite protests from green groups and local businesses, project proponents have already begun site development. Local officials have already passed several resolutions against the project, including the Olongapo Sangguniang Panlungsod Resolution No. 131 in August 2008 and the Olongapo Liga ng mga Barangay Resolution No. 12 in August 2011.
Prior to the filing, the groups held a press conference at the University of the Philippines, Manila. They explained that they want the Supreme Court to to issue a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) and /or a Writ of Kalikasan ordering the RPI to cease and desist from the construction and operation of the coal-fired power plant.
Named respondents to the writ are Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and RPI.
Petitioners included Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro A. Casiño, Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond V. Palatino, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, Gabriela Rep. Emerenciana de Jesus, Kalikasan Partylist president Clemente Bautista Jr., Green City Advocates for Wildlife and Environment Protection Director Noraida Velarmino, WIldlife in Need Director Bianca Espinos, Subic-Olongapo Cancer Foundation, Inc. Vice-President Charo Simons, Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) chairman emeritus Rodolfo Sambajon, Rev. Fr. Gerardo Gregorio P. Jorge, and private citizen John Carlo de los Reyes.
Some Olongapo City officials are also among the petitioners, including Olongapo Vice-Mayor Rolen Paulino, Olongapo City councilors Eduardo Piano, James de los Reyes, Aquilino Cortez Jr., and Sarah Lugerna Lipumano-Garcia as well as Liga ng mga Barangay President Carlito A. Baloy.
Kalikasan Partylist’s Bautista said the SC should stop the threat to the environment and the people’s lives.
“The Central Luzon region will be at risk for more pollution and disasters if this coal-fired power plant is allowed to operate. It has several potentially negative impact on the environment and communities, including the formation of acid rain, warming and acidification of Subic Bay’s seawater, the discharge of various pollutants and heavy metals and the bioaccumulation of contaminants and toxic materials. These could, in turn, affect local plant and forest populations, including 39 endemic fauna and one endangered plant species, marine productivity and the health of communities in the vicinity,” Bautista explained.
Bautista said if coal-fired power plant is allowed to be built and operated, there will be negative effects on the health and livelihood of communities from the municipalities of Subic in Zambales, Olongapo and Morong and Hermosa in Bataan.
“The frail ecological balance in these areas can also be disrupted by the expected impact of the plant construction and operations, such as pollution of coastal waters, air pollution, pollution from toxic coal combustion waste. Instead of responding to the global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Aquino administration has approved more coal-fired power plants all over the country. This is not a sign of good governance,” Bautista said.
The group’s legal counsel Terry Ridon said the project violates the Constitutional rights of the residents of Zambales and Bataan provinces to a balanced and healthful ecology. He also said the project violates provisions in the Local Government Code and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
The press conference was followed by a Unity March of the petitioners and their supporters from the UP Manila campus to the Supreme Court for the formal filing of the petition.
No green technology in coal-powered plants
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Palatino wrote a position paper on the issue, debunking the claims of proponents that green coal technology will be used in the project.
“There is no such thing as an ‘environmentally-friendly coal-fired power plant.’ The project, like the 11 existing coal-fired power plants in the country, poses real and grave threats,” he said.
Palatino also argued that in the Social Acceptability Process conducted by the SBMA last December 2011, all sectors registered their apprehension to the project.
“The local government units saw no direct financial benefits for their constituents that would outweigh health risks. Aeta communities are alarmed over the possible detrimental impact of the plant on the rainforest in the area, which is the primary source of their livelihood and the heart of their heritage. Likewise, Freeport residents and tourism investors are worried over the deterioration of Subic Bay and the loss of its viability as a tourist destination,” he said.
Palatino said the location of the project is also a reason by itself to protest against the project.
“Subic is a special economic zone located near a protected habitat. Even the SBMA acknowledges the unique biodiversity of the area through the Protected Area Management Plan it drafted in December 2001, which recognizes that the Subic Bay Protected Area contains extremely high biodiversity values and high species endemism.
“The principal issue of concern is that a rainforest environment of high quality is in very close proximity to a large concentration of human population and intense land use and economic activity. Maintenance of the ecological balance is dependent on exceptionally good protection from all sources of impact. Modification and change originating from human activity, whether deliberate or unwitting, will erode the rainforest ecosystem and consequently reduce its component elements –populations, habitats, species variation, etc. Ironically, if successfully managed and protected (even enhanced), the ecological values could, in fact, contribute greatly to the overall economic prosperity of the area,” said the report.
The proposed coal plant is located within the protected area.
Palatino said there are other environmental threats in the Subic Bay area and these must be seriously addressed by the government and the private sector in the affected municipalities of Morong, Dinalupihan, Hermosa and Subic Town.
“But it doesn’t weaken our position against the construction of the plant. In fact, it bolsters our argument in opposing the coal project. The coal plant can cause further damage to the region’s fragile ecosystem. Why allow this destructive project to continue?,” he said.
Finally, Palatino said the Aquino administration has been actively pushing for the setting up of coal-fired power plants in different parts of the country as a response to the projected energy crisis.
“This power supply issue can be seen as a product of Aquino’s economic policy, which is but a continuation of past administrations’ flawed concept of development: building the most favorable environment to attract foreign businesses under the framework of neoliberal globalization,” he said.