SAN CARLOS CITY -- As the church continues to gather support for its campaign to protect and conserve the environment, the four dioceses in Negros are preparing a collegial statement opposing the coal-fired power plants in the island.

Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, at the sidelines of the People's Eco-Energy Forum at the Bishop's Home, said the collegial statement will be out before the celebration of Christ the King on Sunday, November 25.

Alminaza said this will be a gathering of forces of the dioceses of San Carlos, Bacolod, and Kabankalan in Negros Occidental, and Dumaguete in Negros Oriental.

“In principle, the four bishops of Negros are behind of this push for a coal-free island,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to get the nod of his fellow bishops on the final form of the statement

“We are still refining it considering some recent developments,” Alminaza also said.

The National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) Caritas Philippines also expressed support mainly through encouraging all other dioceses to back up the said collegial statement.

The forum, in collaboration with Nassa, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, and Center for Environment and Energy Development, was participated by different stakeholders in the city.

These included Parish Pastoral Council officers, parish formation teams, local government officials, students, and youth, among others.

The forum, which provides the people to listen and speak, is one of the initiatives of the Diocese of San Carlos in bannering its strong opposition against coal and other "dirty" forms of energy.

Alminaza said they will continue to hold dialogues and fora, bringing these to other dioceses in the province to reach more stakeholders.

“Through this, people who have something to say in the issue will be given the chance to speak up. Their ideas could help us to be guided accordingly,” Alminaza said.

“So we look forward to be able to have this very reasonable discussion,” he added.

Believing that if there are no clients, there might be no interested in coal firms, talking with top officials and decision makers of local electric cooperatives is the next thing for the diocese.

“We will engage them in conversation," he said, adding that "we will urge them to move into something more renewable because it is for the survival of everybody.”

Other measures include mobilization including climate walk and other activity that would raise awareness and gather forces.

Appeal

Alminaza said he also plans to sit down with the officials of the province mainly Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson.

In fact, he wrote Lacson on November 20, asking the vice-governor to allow representatives of the diocese, The Climate Reality Project, and Negrosanon Kontra-Coal to attend the committee hearing on the proposed ordinance banning coal in the province on November 21.

“They have not received a response on the request yet,” Alminaza said, adding that their intention is really just to listen.

“As constituents and stakeholders, I think we have the right to know what is going so that we can eventually know how to respond,” he said.

The bishop claimed that the people of San Carlos were not given enough opportunity to express our stand.

Weighing impact

San Carlos City Mayor Gerardo Valmayor Jr., who was also at the forum, said the city has no official stand yet on the issue as it is still weighing the impacts of the proposed development of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant of San Miguel Global Power Holdings Corp.

Valmayor said there have been a lot of activities signifying the interest of the company to build a coal plant in the city.

They were invited to see San Miguel's plant in Davao. They also visited some coal plants in cities of Toledo and Naga in Cebu.

The mayor, though, clarified that there is no request for support yet from San Miguel, thus, it is not true that the City Council has issued any permit or approval for the proposed project.

The council just concurred the resolutions of Barangays Punaw and Palampas, the would-be host-barangays, expressing their openness to the project.

“As of now, we are still weighing the impact. I know that church has been very critical for the environment,” he said, adding that “but I told the bishop that we will evaluate the pros and cons.”

Aside from the negative effects of the coal plant, the City Government is also considering the possible benefits it can bring to the city like taxes, special education fund and livelihood for the community.

Initially, Valmayor said they have not seen any huge negative effects of coal. Instead, it can bring many benefits to the host-communities.

“The city has been a recipient of various environment awards, thus, they are preparing for this,” Valmayor said.

“Being a sustainable city, San Carlos is carbon neutral. In case there will be a coal plant, it will contribute to carbon emission,” he said.

“If ever the project pushes through, we will see to it necessary measures will be put in place,” the mayor said, adding that countermeasures to mitigate effects of carbon emission like reforestation will be intensified.

“We will require proponents to work with us,” Valmayor added.