“Palawan has 17 key biodiversity areas, two (United Nations) World Heritage sites, and virtually the whole province – consisting of 1,780 islands – is a virtual protected area, protected by so many laws.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Environmentalists from Palawan have brought their fight against “dirty coal” to the national capitol, as they called to protect the island, dubbed as the country’s last pristine frontier, now threatened with the local government’s push for the operation of a coal-fired power plant.
Groups led by the Palawan Alliance for Clean Energy (PACE) and 350.org trooped to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the House of Representatives today, Sept. 30, to submit their petition opposing the application for a 15-megawatt coal-fired power plant by the company DMCI.
DMCI’s application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the coal plant project has been pending at the DENR, after Palawan local government units gave their green light for the project. DMCI had been criticized by various groups for destructive mining, human rights violations, and the construction of Torre de Manila, which is being opposed for “defacing” the view of the Rizal monument.
The environmentalists lamented that Palawan local officials are pushing for “dirty energy,” when the area is teeming with renewable sources of energy.
“Palawan has 17 key biodiversity areas, two (United Nations) World Heritage sites, and virtually the whole province – consisting of 1,780 islands – is a virtual protected area, protected by so many laws,” said lawyer Gerthie Anda of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (Elac), at a press conference today.
“It’s sad that they’re still pushing for coal,” she said.
The groups also brought with them the Palawan Island Power Development Plan, a study funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which says that the cheapest and biggest source of power is renewable energy. The study was endorsed by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, and the same local officials who recently endorsed the DMCI coal plant.
The online petition against the coal plant had garnered 6,000 signatories, among them were: Patricia Ortega, widow of slain Palawan environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega, Puerto Princesa City Bishop Pedro Arigo, Northern Palawan Bishop Edgardo Juanich, Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano, iconic folk singer Lolita Carbon, and Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation.
The same petition is also being circulated and gathering signatures in schools and churches, the groups said.
“As the government’s main agency tasked with preventing further environmental degradation in the country, DENR should turn down the DMCI’s coal plant project in Palawan which will destroy its precious ecosystem,” the petition said.
On May 28, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development’s (PCSD) gave a Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance to the DMCI, a subsidiary of the David M. Consunji Holdings Inc., to build the coal plant, to the consternation of local groups and environmentalists who had opposed the coal project in the past three years.
In June, the Makabayan bloc in congress filed a resolution calling for a probe on the PCSD approval of the project.
The environmentalists warned of adverse impact on the environment and human health if the coal plant pushes through.
Anda said the SEP clearance for the coal plant requires high-quality coal, with low content of sulphur and heavy metal.
“But the coal that will be used by DMCI will come from Semirara, and we know that Semirara coal is of low quality,” she said, referring to the Semirara coal mine, also owned by DMCI.
Anda cited that although DMCI said the plant will have electrostatic smoke precipitators to absorb sulphur and nitric oxide, there are none to absorb the carbon oxide, and there will still be pollution. She added that the bottom ash that will come from the coal plant is planned to be sold to cement plants, which will even compound the problem, there being no study on the impact on health of cement made from bottom ash.
On the other hand, Anda said Palawan has 100 rivers, which can be tapped for run-of-the-river mini hydropower projects.
Bad track record
In 2012, DMCI entered into a power supply agreement with Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco) which provided for the putting up of the coal plant, as among the sources of power.
Cynthia del Rosario of PACE noted that DMCI had committed violations of its contract when it failed to deliver the needed power supply.
“We cannot trust DMCI anymore … for three consecutive months, there was a string of brown outs as they promote the coal plant. How can we trust this company which has a bad track record?” she said.
Lessons learned from mining
For farmer Teofilo Tredez, 49, of the Calatigas Service Irrigators Association in Narra town, peasants and fisherfolk are opposed to the coal plant as the lessons of destructive mining in Narra is still fresh.
“They (companies) promised that our village will become a ‘Little Brunei’… but the mining had come and gone and it never happened,” he said. Residents of San Isidro village – the site of the coal plant — and other villages in Narra fear a repeat of the pollution caused by mining.
Five years after the mining companies had shut down, Tredez said, nickel laterite from open-pit mining had polluted rice farms and water ways and decreased food production. Farms which used to yield 100 cavans of palay per hectare, now only harvest 30 to 40 cavans. Tredez added that he used to catch 10 up to 50 tiklis (basket weighing 120 kilos) of fish, but now only catches one to three baskets.
The bangus fingerlings which used to abound in the brackish waters of Narra had also dwindled.
“We are totally against the coal plant in Narra because we know this will not benefit us, as we have seen in mining… We want to tell our respected officials in DENR, that there are many other sources of energy which we can use in Palawan,” Tredez said.