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AKLAN, Philippines – Villagers staged a protest hours before a public hearing on a proposed 14-megawatt wind farm expansion project in Malay, Aklan on Wednesday, January 31, because they fear that its construction near a river would take a toll on their environment.
The protesters called on the town legislators of Malay not to give the planned Nabas-2 Expansion Project of PetroWind Energy Incorporated (PWEI) the green light, saying its construction poses irreversible damage to the Nabaoy River that would impact their livelihood and socio-economic life.
In August 2023, the Malay town government took back its endorsement for the project after officials realized that there were concerns about losses in terms of livelihood, tourism, and issues on accessibility, and sustainability guarantees.
Stefhanie Bernabe, a 21-year-old protester, appealed to Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista not to support the project because the construction would likely affect their way of life.
She said, “We should learn from what happened in Napaan. What if the environment itself changes us? What will happen to us? What can Nabaoy do then? What if Nabaoy were to be ruined, and you would not be the mayor at that time? Who would be held responsible?”
During the first construction phase of the wind farm, the water of Napaan River, one of Malay’s watersheds, turned brown for months due to heavy siltation, and the natural water flow was disrupted. A joint environmental audit report by the town government and conservation volunteers in September 2023 validated this.
Philippine Initiative for Conservation of Environment and the People (PhilinCon) Director Rebecca Barrios called for bolder actions from the town government, saying Nabaoy is the “lifeline of the whole Malay.”
The Nabaoy River is classified as a Class A body of water and is the only source of potable water in Malay and Boracay Island. It serves 50,000 residents in Malay, which sees an average of two million tourists per year.
“What is at stake here is the life of the river, the lives of the fishermen, [and] the lives of their families who rely on what the river can give. It is their lifeline,” Barrios said.
Meanwhile, Bautista said that while he was concerned about the welfare of his constituents, he also pointed out that the town and other areas are adversely affected by the current power crisis in Panay, particularly in Aklan.
He said the project is needed, and that PetroWind has committed to address concerns about the Nabaoy River.
PetroWind executives, during the hearing, assured that the river would not be affected by the construction project but did not say exactly how they would do it.
Since Pawa and Napaan are the host sites of the wind turbines, Nabaoy has not been included as a beneficiary of the planned project. Officials and protesters, however, said Nabaoy would likely be at the receiving end of the anticipated heavy siltation as a result of the planned expansion project.
Nabaoy’s barangay officials pointed out that their village was excluded from the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Meanwhile, Caticlan barangay councilor Christine Hope Pagsuiguiron told Rappler that people in her community also opposed the project plan during a series of public consultations.
“If PetroWind is really committed to Nabaoy, we challenge them to place a security bond of P1 billion. They can get it back anytime, as long as Nabaoy is not affected by their project,” Pagsuguiron said.
The bond, she said, would be used for the rehabilitation of the Nabaoy watershed, and would be the source of financial aid to water utilities for expenses to be incurred in case of further damage to the river.
In a statement on Saturday, February 3, PetroWind assured stakeholders of the project that it will implement robust impact mitigation measures.
It said the company presented its Ridge-to-River Restoration and Rehabilitation (R4) Program during public hearings, and outlined slope stabilization and erosion control measures recommended by local and international bioengineering experts. Such measures, it said, were applied in the first phase of the project, which was completed in October 2023.
PetroWind also said recent inspections by environmental agencies confirmed the project’s compliance with Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), Special Agreement on Protected Area (SAPA), and Forestland Use Agreement (FLAG) conditions. The compliance, it said, was affirmed in a hearing by the town council of Malay on January 31.
“We emphasize that this is a government project, undertaken by PetroWind as the Service Contractor of the Department of Energy (DOE),” read part of the firm’s statement, adding that the recent power outage in Panay showed the need for stable electricity.
PetroWind added, “Propaganda based on purely ideological grounds without hard scientific and technical basis can result in less investments in Aklan, loss of additional tax revenues for the LGUs, and loss of employment and business opportunities for host communities.” – Rappler.com
Jed Nykolle Harme is an associate editor at Eamigas Publication, and is an Arries Rufo Journalism fellow for 2023-2024.