LOUD voices of at least 2,000 youth holding their “no to coal” banners and tarpaulins were amplified as Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. formally announced that he has signed an Executive Order (EO) declaring the entire province as coal-free.
Marañon, during the “Youth Strike for Negros” held at the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Bacolod City Wednesday, March 6, said he is issuing EO No. 19-08 Series of 2019, an order declaring the province as a source of clean and renewable energy.
The governor said environmental protection is inter-generational, it is the concern of everybody.
“It is about the future. Climate change is here already, so we must protect our environment, we must conserve,” he said, adding that he tasked the Provincial Environment Management Office to make a thorough study before coming up with the order.
Signed by Marañon on March 6, the EO states that the 1987 Constitution provides that the state shall protect and advance the right of the Filipinos to a balanced and healthful ecology in accordance with the rhythm and harmony of nature.
It also provides that the exploration, development and utilization of mineral resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the state.
The order cited Local Government Code of 1991, stating that the provincial governor shall adopt adequate measures to safeguard and conserve land, mineral, marine, forest and other resources in the province in coordination with mayors of component localities.
The Renewable Energy (RE) Act of 2008, the EO said, provides that it is the state’s policy to encourage the development and utilization of RE sources as tools to effectively prevent or reduce harmful emissions and thereby balance the goals of economic growth and development with the protection of health and environment.
“More and more countries have been decommissioning its coal-fired powered plants due to the damage it causes to the environment and in fact have been shifting to RE projects,” it said, adding that with proper technology transfer, the province has the landscape, capacity and resources for further development and investment in RE projects.
These projects will not only address the energy supply but will also maintain the agricultural economic and social landscape of the province, it said.
It can be recalled that as early as October last year, Marañon proposed to the Provincial Board (PB) an ordinance declaring the entire Negros Occidental coal-free, clean energy, and environment-friendly province.
In the said EO, the governor reiterated his recommendation to the PB to issue an RE Ordinance, further stating an opposition to the setting up of a coal-fired power plant anywhere within the province.
Marañon said since there’s already a proposed ordinance, it’s up to the PB. They should act now.
“The proposal has been there for quite some time. Let the members of the SP vote, so we will know who are in favor or against the measure,” he added.
Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, a staunch supporter of a coal-free Negros movement, said they are thankful and elated that the governor has made a very clear stand in favor of their advocacy for clean province.
That’s a good affirmation in itself, Alminaza said, adding that the EO is an additional backbone and will strengthen the opposition forces against the entry of “dirty” energy sources like coal.
Alminaza along with three other bishops in Negros earlier issued a collegial pastoral statement opposing coal.
The four church leaders called on Negrenses to stand firm together in protecting the environment through one, opposing the reported proposal of SMC Global Power Holdings Corp. to develop a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in San Carlos City.
“We are not sure yet of the repercussion of this EO to the decision of the PB on the proposed ordinance,” he said, adding that the earlier pronouncement made by the City Council of San Carlos that “they are supporting the coal project” would not mean an uphill battle.
“For me, we have a strong moral ground and I trust the sensibility of Negrenses as long as only facts and truths will be presented to them. We will have the majority as those in the oriental are already on our side,” the bishop added.
In Negros Oriental, there’s already an EO backed with PB Resolution ordering all offices and local governments not to issue permits, authorize, endorse, or express support to coal-fired power plants.
The Climate Reality Project Philippines, meanwhile, commended Negros Occidental for taking a bold step towards a greener, sustainable future.
Its head Rodne Galicha told SunStar Bacolod that it is their hope that the province serves as a model for others to break free from coal and commit to the fight to solve the climate crisis.
“We expect all sectors in the province to work together to turn this vision of a coal-free Negros Occidental into a reality,” Galicha added.
Attended by students and youth from different schools and parishes under the Diocese of San Carlos, some are from Bacolod City, the activity on Wednesday is considered as the biggest youth-led mobilization against climate change and anti-coal initiative in the country so far by The Climate Change Reality Project.
Krishna Ariola, lead convenor of Youth for Climate Hope, said they have been holding the “protest” in four consecutive Wednesdays already to call for immediate action of the SP favoring the proposed ordinance.
“They must act now,” she said.
Ariola said the activity is also in support to the youth strike for climate, a global movement which started in Sweden then replicated in various countries.
“We, the youth of Negros, stand that our future is our say,” she said, adding that they will continue to hold the activity until the province will be absolutely declared as coal-free.
Marañon lauded the move of the students, saying that “it is their future so it is just right that they are concerned about it.”
Alminaza, meanwhile, said “we have better youth in Negros, their voice is very important in this issue.”
While he welcomed the protest made by the youth, Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said the PB is not delaying the process on whether, or not, approve the ordinance as committees on energy and environment are still doing series of hearings.
Lacson said Negrenses probably are already used to the swift action of the PB on previous resolutions, but people must remember the long term implications of the new proposed measure.
“We should be careful in passing judgment to the governor’s request,” he said, reiterating that “I will not stand in the way of what San Carlos wants, I will not also encourage what San Carlos doesn’t want.”
For Third District Board Member Manuel Frederick Ko, chairman of the committee on energy, said they cannot rush it up and compromise the power need of the province in the future.
Ko also said that “students who joined the protest are supposed to be in school and prioritize their studies.”