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I came across two articles from the GMA news feed several weeks ago, both about the establishment of proposed renewable energy power plants and the opposition they presently face from local constituents. While the articles are not as recent, the issues they present are ever as fresh. I quote them both at some length here:

Class suit vs. geothermal project in Kanlaon filed

MANILA, Philippines — At least 200 people, including children, will lodge before the Bacolod Regional Trial Court Wednesday a petition to stop the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) from entering the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) buffer zone for geothermal development.

…the petitioners’ lawyer Andrea Si said they would seek a temporary retraining order and a permanent injunction on the EDC move. Si said the petitioners remain opposed to the tapping of geothermal power from the buffer zone and to the purchase of power for Negros Occidental from a coal-fired plant in Cebu.

They said government and the business sector should push for alternative renewable power, such as hydro, solar and wind, and should not compromise what little is left of the province’s forest.

…Si said the class suit will ask the court to stop EDC from entering the buffer zone because of questions on the constitutionality of Republic Act 9154, which established MKNP as a protected area and a peripheral area as a buffer zone. The suit will also question the Energy Development Corporations’ (EDC) Environment Compliance Certificate and the firm’s plan to drill for geothermal energy from the buffer zone to the MKNP protected area.

…Tapping 40 megawatts of geothermal power from the buffer zone is not worth destroying irreplaceable rich biodiversity in the area, she added.

Energy officials earlier warned that Negros Occidental no longer has reserve power and its power shortage will worsen by 2010 if it does not have new sources of energy in place by then.

Cooperative eyes P2.8 hydro plant

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — An electric cooperative here plans to build a 20-megawatt hydropower plant in Lake Sebu, the tourism capital of South Cotabato province, as it anticipates a supply shortage in the area two to three years from now.

Santiago C. Tudio, general manager of the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative said, “…the generated power from the waters of the Seven Falls of Lake Sebu will be used to supply the power requirement of South Cotabato in anticipation of the power shortage…” Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is safer than a coal-fired power plant.

But Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Jose M. Madanguit, chairman of the environment committee, said residents of Lake Sebu would oppose the project due to concerns about biodiversity. This could affect the area’s eco-tourism potentials and might displace the T’boli tribe.

But Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is the best option given the rising cost of diesel fuel. A hydropower plant is also more environment-friendly than one fired by coal, he pointed out.

Lake Sebu’s mountains are rich in coal pursued by several mining firms. But the local electric cooperative here, Mr. Tudio said, prefers a hydropower plant given the town’s abundant water resources. Lake Sebu is home to waterfalls and several lakes.

Mindanao has a generating capacity of 1,850 megawatts, but the dependable capacity is only 1,520 megawatts. Peak demand is projected to hit 1,440 megawatts this year. Industry regulations, however, require the Mindanao grid to maintain a reserve capacity of at least 23.4% of its generating capacity. Peak demand for power supply by 2015 is expected to hit 1,750 megawatts.

At the onset, I can recognize the potential benefits that the introduction of power sources—let alone renewable energy sources—will bring to these areas. Not only does it provide electricity for communities that did not used to have it, it can also augment the much needed energy demands of the province or the region. Communities that used to rely on diesel generators running for just several hours in a given day can now enjoy continuous power supply. Power generation can stimulate trade; refrigeration, for example, is now made possible unlike before when it was too costly to run on generators, and consequently, perishable goods like fish and other meats can now be stored longer periods and stocked more for mass volume trading in the market. The scales of production increase as a consequence, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of people.

Apart from the tangible benefits of electricity to local communities, the generated power to begin with is cleaner; it comes from cleaner energy sources such as geothermal plumes or hydropower, as opposed to coal-fired plants which emit harmful CO2 into the atmosphere. The national government presently promotes the shift to cleaner, renewable energy sources in pursuit of its commitment to mitigate global climate change. By utilizing these cleaner energy sources, not only is the country’s carbon emissions reduced, but so is its dependence on imported oil for power generation minimized; thereby, lowering the risks of its constituents to inflation and food price hikes due to exorbitant oil price surges.

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The July 7/14 issue of Newsweek featured Yale University’s 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI)—“a global ranking of nations with the best, and worst, environmental track records,” the magazine cover said. Curious as to how the Philippines fared, and wanting to find out the “who’s who” in the best and worst around the world, I bought a copy after briefly browsing through the contents (and initially finding out the Philippines scored somewhere between the range of 79.99 to 70, with 100 being highest).

I learned after poring over the special report, and reading further from Yale’s website, that the EPI sought to be a comprehensive yardstick of the world’s environmental issues and how each country was responding to them. Although considering the EPI as far from being entirely an accurate measure of national performance, Newsweek stated it as the “best measure we have of how nations are faring in the battle to save the environment…” The EPI provided measures for two objectives, specifically: (1) reducing environmental stresses to human health, and (2) promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management. It used 25 performance indicators which were tracked in 6 well-established policy categories such as climate change, biodiversity and habitat, water, air pollution, productive natural resources, and environmental health.
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Last year, we at Dumaguete and its surrounding Municipalities heard about plans to conduct oil explorations in Tañon Strait. For those who have not heard about this important piece of Philippine treasure, this area follows dolphin and whale migration routes. Bais City’s famous dophin and whale watching tours depend on this relatively small area between Cebu and Negros. Talk of this exploration died down last year, but have now resurrected, thanks to the vigilance of some marine biologists and concerned citizens. I am thus attaching an on-line petition against oil drilling in the Tañon Strait. I hope this initiative helps policy-makers overcome thier short-sightedness and start to think about longer-term benefits.

Bow Riders

Dear Friends,

Please take time to read and sign this online petition against drilling for oil in the Tanon Strait. We need all the help we can get.
I have also attached a brochure so that those who are not familiar with the issue can learn what they should know.

Kindly write your name address at the end of the petition and for those who are signing on the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc. slot, please CC me (portianillos@yahoo.com) so that we can keep track of the people who have signed online.

We are hoping to get at least 5,000 signatures so that we can present this to the people in government who did not consult the people about their intention to ruin the future of fishing communities in Negros
and Cebu.

Thank you very much for your support.

Portia Joy Kleiven

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

At What Cost?

Let it be known to all and sundry that we are not against development and progress! But development and progress must be obtained in a responsible manner and must ensure the sustainability of resources and the future of our nation’s children. Consequently then, we stand opposed to destructive forms of development and progress that regards the short-term influx of investment and employment. We stand opposed to a development and progress that disregards and neglects the long-term negative impact of such development on both the environment and humanity.
Upon such premise do we come and raise issues and concerns over the on-going development efforts at the Tañon Strait and Bohol-Cebu Strait.

1. Under Pres. Decree 1234, a law which has not been rescinded nor repealed, Tañon Strait is and remains to be a protected marine area, how on earth is it now up for development inconsistent to its protected status?

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-R7), Tañon Strait ranks in the Top 10 major fishing grounds in the country. It produces big and quality fish stocks, including blue marlin and tuna. It is also well-known for its schools of dolphins, which has put Negros in the map for eco-tourism.
Tañon Strait is home to a marine biodiversity (11 species of cetaceans alone) that would be critically disturbed and destroyed by development aggression.

Tañon Strait is a vital food source for millions of peoples living in 45 towns and cities covering three provinces: Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Cebu.
Tañon Strait is home to 60 marine sanctuaries and the Cebu-Bohol Strait has 80 marine sanctuaries. The local government units have consistently invested in coastal resource management Oil exploration will surely affect in the negative environmental gains and progress made.

2. We call to task national government agencies, like the Department on Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), that are there supposedly to protect our natural resources from entry of destructive development aggression but instead have been very liberal in giving Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECCs) and Certificates of Non-Coverage.

It is only when there is public outrage and high media visibility that these agencies “review” the clearances they have given.
Like the case of the Korean construction atop the crater of Taal Volcano, an ECC has been given, but subjected to thorough review only when it was exposed. It is a fact that national agencies at times totally disregard and ignore Local Government Units (LGUs). It was admitted by no less than the Department of Energy Secretary that in the very beginning of the project, that it has done oil exploration in Tañon Strait without informing the LGUs.

3. Development for Whom and for What?

  • Former Secretary of the DENR Heherson Alvarez has aptly put it: “What does it gain a nation to be short-sighted and merely think of money when an irreparable damage to the environment will cost human lives, health, and livelihood capacity of our farmers and fisherfolk endangering the food security of our people?”
  • If we are to use the figures used in a similar exploration between Cebu and Bohol, for every $100 gross proceeds of the project, only $3.46 will go to the local government (this miniscule amount to be further divided between the province and the municipalities).
  • Mining companies can avail of economic privileges like 100% repatriation of capital and profits; 6 years tax exemption on profits; 10 years tax exemption for export; tax exemption for imports; employment of foreigners; right to transfer or sales of mining agreement; and confidentiality rights. They are also given other rights like timber, water, easement and ingress and egress rights. In the past, the multi-national mining companies paid local taxes where their main headquarters are located, (usually in Makati) and not where the extractables are taken. Who will benefit from these explorations? The people of the affected places Negros, Cebu and Bohol? Who will be holding on to the empty bag when all the oil has been drained? The multi-national corporation would have left to destroy another part of the planet while the people in Negros and Cebu and Bohol will live in an area forever scarred by exploration and extraction.

4. We call on government to exert more effort in more sustainable alternative to oil that will not only reduce our dependency on oil but can spur development in agriculture as well such as the bio-fuel and ethanol production, solar and wind power and other renewable energy sources.

5. We call on government to carry out the intent of the Philippine Constitution: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology in accord with rhythm and harmony of nature” (Article II Section 16).

“Which are more important for the people in the long run, biologically replenishing (and sustainable) marine and coastal resources or limited, exhaustible, non-replenishing oil resources, if any? As the Metro Post editorial put it: “Let us not rush to destroy our environment in our quest for black gold. For all we know, the cost for such a mistake could be much, much greater.”

NO TO DEVELOPMENT AGGRESSION!
NO TO DEVELOPMENT AT ANY COST!
YES TO SUSTAINABLE AND ECO-FRIENDLY ENERGY ALTERNATIVES!
YES TO SAFEGUARDING THE PATRIMONY OF OUR NATION!

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I wish I could take credit for the title of this post but, it was actually wildlifemayie’s reaction when I told her yesterday who the new Department of Environment and Natural Resources chief was.

In case you don’t read the papers, its in all the headlines. The new DENR head is former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.

Former Mayor Atienza is most known for his urban development projects – sidewalk paving and road repair, fancy street lights and Baywalk – the man is an architect by trade. I covered the last year of his term as Manila Mayor and in fairness, he is not the devil incarnate.

But – from what I have personally seen and heard – I feel quite justified in squawking in outrage that the man knows nothing about the environment.

For heavens sake, he destroyed the Mehan Gardens and built a school building in Arroceros Forest Park.

I actually covered the opening of the Department of City Schools building in Arroceros Park. He renamed the park “People’s Park,” stated that the building did not take up the entire forest park and that the park was open for all the people of Manila to enjoy a slice of nature.

Then he said that he had plans to approve it. That there were no birds in the forest park because – and he claimed that he had experts to back this up – the trees in the park were not the sort that birds lived in. The experts he mentioned were never identified and as far as I know, other experts from Haribon and the Wild Bird Club have stated that there are at least ten bird species that made the park its home.

Of course that was before trees were cut down and construction began on the building.

The caretakers of Arroceros is the Winner Foundation, they fought long and hard to prevent any construction in the park. For their trouble they were banned from the park.

Not only that but – when the park was re-opened to the public – they were still not allowed. Apparently the guards on the gate were under orders to not let them in.

Then when Milenyo hit and trees were brought down by its winds, the Winner Foundation asked permission to go in to the park to clean up. Atienza initially agreed, then he withdrew his permission for unspecified reasons.

Seriously, where was the harm in letting people who were volunteering to clean up in the park? Manila was pretty wreaked by the storm and the City Engineering Office was already stretched thin cleaning the roads and damage to the cities infrastructure. You would think they would welcome help. The only reason I can think of that help might be refused would be. . . pettiness.

The man is not the devil incarnate. I actually think he would make a good cabinet secretary – if he was given an appropriate position – such as say with the Department of Public Works and Highways.

He is an architect by training and. . . urban development is something he has a relatively good track record on. Why wasn’t he given the DPWH instead?

In the end, his lack of understanding and. . . pettiness over the Arroceros Park issue does not fill me with hope that the man will be a great caretaker of our natural resources.

Anyway here are links to the Inquirer articles on the subject:

Lito Atienza new environment head

Environmentalists shocked over Atienzas appointment to DENR
From the environmental point of view, the Inquirer is doing the best job of covering this issue. They actually mention the reasons why Atienza is not qualified for the position. Most of the other papers focus on whether or not Department of Energy Secretary Lotilla was fired or not.

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