CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Hundreds of activists observed International Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22, marching around the city’s main thoroughfares to protest the construction of 4 coal-fired power plants some 30 kilometers away, in the towns of Tagoloan and Villanueva in Misamis Oriental.
The protesters, coming from different sectors, said took government to task for not investing in renewable energy, and for giving permits to coal power plants without regard for the environment and health risks they supposedly pose.
Misamis Power Corporation is constructing 400-megawatt and 210-megawatt plants, while Steag State Power Incorporated (SPI) has two plants. They are on a property of the Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corporation Industrial Authority, which traverses several barangays of the two adjacent towns.
Richard Colao, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao, held a tree seedling to symbolize their protest against the preference of the government and the private sector for coal instead of renewable energy.
The Misamis Oriental Farmers Association also lambasted the local governments and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for failing to consider the health hazards the power plants could cause when they gave permits to coal energy companies.
“Why [choose] coal always? We in Mindanao are blessed with hydro resources as well as solar sources that can be developed?” said Bishop Melzar Labuntog of the Iglesia Philippine Independent Church-Northwest Mindanao Jurisdiction, who chairs of Panalipdan Mindanao (Defend Mindanao).
Labuntog said that coal is not sustainable and will destroy the environment. He cited data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Green Peace that coal emits carbon dioxide, mercury, and arsenic, the dirtiest and ugliest that destroys the ozone layer that causes global warming.
The coal industry emits 39% of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest report called on all countries to drastically cut down on fossil fuel energy sources lest global warming reach the disastrous 2 degrees Celsius level.
The groups also lambasted the government for saying that the only solution to the power crisis in Mindanao is through the construction of more coal power plants. (READ: PH reliance on coal contributes to climate change – groups)
On the other hand, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro power do not emit greenhouse gases and take advantage of unlimited natural resources. The IPCC said the world needs to “triple or nearly quadruple” renewable energy investments in order to curb climate change.
No environmental laws violated
However, Jerome Soldevilla, communications officer of Steag, said that since 2006, when SPI started operating Mindanao’s first coal fired power plant, the company had not been cited for any violation of environmental laws.
The company is a recipient of the DENR Superior Environmental Performance Award through the Philippine Environmental Partnership Program.
Soldevilla also said SPI also pioneered in the Philippines an online emission monitoring system. “The plant emissions can be viewed and accessed at the Environmental Management Bureau office of DENR. With this initiative, environmental transparency is somehow elevated into a higher level,” Soldevilla said.
Soldevilla also added that SPI ensures that its electric power generation process meets the highest standards of safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility.
Soldevilla said that SPI continued to take actions that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions through operational efficiency.
“Over the years, we managed to cut back carbon emission by nearly two million metric tons by sustaining a power generation efficiency rate of 36%, relatively much higher than the global average of 28%-30%,” he said.
The spokesperson revealed that as part of its corporate social responsibility, SPI is undertaking one of the biggest private-sector-led reforestation projects in Mindanao – the 1,200-hectare Mapawa Carbon Sink Project in Cagayan de Oro City and another 1,000-hectare urban forestry project in Tagoloan and Villanueva towns.
“On top of this, we are supporting some 16-hectare mangrove rehabilitation projects in coastal areas of Misamis Oriental, and SPI is actively involved in the protection of the Macajalar Bay through the Macajalar Bay Development Alliance of which the company is a pioneering member representing the industry sector,” Soldevilla said.
Filinvest said it would issue a statement on the points raised by protesters.
The Philippines has at least 17 coal-fired plants spewing 32.1 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
There are 24 new coal power plants on the way, and they are estimated to release 52.8 million tons more yearly. An additional 20 power plants have been proposed. – with a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com