MANILA – Wearing face masks to symbolize the helpless suffering of communities around coal plants, environmentalist groups and Batangas peasant and fisherfolk trooped for two days around Metro Manila to call for a moratorium on “dirty energy” from coal-fired plants.
Yes, you have electricity, but we are the ones who suffer from endless soot, Batangas residents protest. And the soot and the protests have gone on for 31 years in communities around the formerly government-owned Calaca coal-fired plant in San Rafael village, Calaca, Batangas province.
It is even worse now since another coal plant began operations last year, the 135-mw Southern Luzon Thermal Energy Corp., a joint venture of the Ayala Corp and Phinma Group, in nearby Puting Bato West village.
The Calaca coal-fired power plant is now Sem-Calaca, owned by the “scourge” of environmentalists, David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI) Holdings, which also has ventures in mining, logging and construction.
The series of activities held from Sept. 8 to 9 gathered the groups Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), Bukluran para sa Inang Kalikasan-Batangas (Bukal), Power-Just, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) and Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC-Phils).
The “protestaserye,” or series of protests, started with a forum in Baclaran Redemptorist Church in Parañaque City, a protest at the Department of Energy in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig on Sept. 8, and the next day, Sept. 9, a picket-dialogue at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr) in Quezon City.
The groups echoed the initial results of a four-day environmental investigative mission (EIM) and medical mission held by people’s scientists and environmentalists in 10 villages in the towns of Calaca and Balayan on Sept. 1 to 4.
“Among the initial findings of the EIM include the observation of surrounding plant life smothered in coal ash, a huge open-air coal stockpile exposed to powerful winds, numerous documented health problems correlated to coal pollution, and the depletion of fisheries and adverse impacts on other livelihoods that residents associate with the various effects of the coal power project,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE campaign coordinator.
“Coal ash can have potentially toxic substances such as heavy metals, and the people in the communities are bombarded with this pollution on a daily basis,” said Karl Begnotea, Kalikasan PNE field biologist.
Dulce said the three decades of the people’s suffering from the coal pollution “should warrant an immediate stoppage” of the plant. But DMCI has already began expansion of the capacity of the 600-megawatt Sem-Calaca to additional 1,000 mw, targeted for completion until 2017.
“The DMCI-owned power project should be first in line in Secretary Gina Lopez’s promised audit as it has been the country’s longest coal polluter and has a continuously-growing rap sheet of environmental, health, and socio-economic impacts,” Dulce said.
One of the doctors who joined the medical mission, Joseph Carabeo of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) described the initial pattern found among some 500 patients as “alarming.” He noted that aside from the widespread skin diseases and upper respiratory tract infection ailments, there is a relatively high number of patients who are diabetic or had suffered from stroke in communities around the coal plants.
The group AGHAM said the worsening pollution by coal plants makes a stronger case for the country’s conversion to clean energy and nationalization of the power industry. Finesa Cosico, AGHAM secretary general highlighted that the price of per kilowatt hour of Batangas Electric Company (Batelec 1) is at P9.90, which is P2 higher than that of Meralco which is at P7.40.
“The coal plant has not fulfilled its intended purpose of lowering the cost of electricity in the country… Even communities surrounding it have not benefited from the presence of the power plant. Isn’t it an irony why the price per kilowatt hour of areas near the power plant is higher than that of farther areas?” Cosico said.
In a petition submitted to Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, the groups called on government to:
1. Impose a moratorium on the construction of new or expansion of existing coal power plants in Batangas province and the rest of the country;
2. Demand indemnification from the DMCI company for communities adversely affected by the Calaca Coal Power Project;
3. Begin the process of transitioning existing coal power projects towards cleaner and safer technologies, prioritizing the Calaca Coal Power Project; and
4. Recommend to Congress the repeal of energy privatization policies especially the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to return the public interest-orientation of the strategic industry.
Photos by CARLO MANALANSAN
Text by DEE AYROSO