MANAPLA -- The Victorias Milling Company (VMC) has poured in over P200 million for the development of its distillery plant in Barangay Purisima in this northern Negros Occidental town as measure to mainly address environmental concerns previously raised by some residents especially pollution.
Plant manager Engineer Sherwin Bacanto, in a forum with the local government and residents at Barangay Purisima Covered Court Tuesday, November 10, said the distillery plant has temporarily stopped operation in June this year.
Bacanto said the shutdown was made to address issues on foul odor reportedly caused by the plant that produces 60,000 liters of ethyl alcohol per day using molasses as raw material.
"This signifies that the management hears the feedback of the people," he said, adding that they started some "significant improvements" at the plant after about four months of shutdown.
In September this year, the VMC tuned up its distillery plant.
Tuning up means adjustments and process control improvements in order to resolve environment concerns raised by the community, the plant manager explained.
He also announced during the forum that the distillery is no longer utilizing a natural lagoon. This means that the plant operation is already totally disconnected to any bodies of water in the host community.
"This is the answer of the management to all your concerns," Bacanto said, adding "we did everything with all our resources to address the issue especially the odor."
Other developments at the plant included the construction of a "world-class design" vacuum distillation, which is intended to reduce 30 percent of its stream.
The firm reported that it has also finished developing its anaerobic digester to ensure that all process streams are treated with no shortcut.
The anaerobic digester lessens the presence of odor-causing bacteria in the slops by-product by 60 to 70 percent, it said, adding that the facility also increases the pH level which reduces acidity making it a good soil conditioner and fertilizer.
Bacanto said to further ensure that the distillery is not dumping any drop of waste to the natural lagoon, it has also developed its own ponds.
The plant, which was taken over by the VMC in 2011 from its previous owner, is now on 85 percent of production and going towards its full capacity in terms of operation.
Based on its development roadmap specifically for the environment aspect, the phase one of its projects is almost done. The phase two including the rehabilitation of the natural lagoon to be converted into a fishpond has also started.
"We have addressed the issue, we have managed and resolved the impact of production," he said, adding that "these investments show the commitment of the VMC towards environmental compliance."
During the forum, some residents affirmed that they have been raising concerns previously regarding the foul odor discharged by the plant. They, however, clarified that it was already addressed.
What bothers them now is the petition filed by some groups against the VMC, calling for its closure, affixing the signatures of the residents.
Julius Cesar Cañete, one of the residents, said they were asked to sign a blank document in November last year for a supposed dialogue with the company regarding the foul odor emitted by its plant.
Cañete said they were told that their signatures would just serve as attendance confirming that they are residents of the barangay.
"We believed in them because one of them is also a leader [official] in the barangay," he added.
Another resident, Angela Jumamoy, who is a wife of an employee of the distillery plant, said she wanted to clear her name.
"Nakibot gid ako nga wala gid ako gani miisa nga ginpirmahan maski sa ano, sa baho ukon petition, nakibot lang ko nga may ngalan ko. Indi man gani akon agi [I was shocked because I have not sign any document, whether about the odor or petition, I was shocked that my name was included. It is not my penmanship]," Jumanoy said.
Theresa Genobes, also a resident of Barangay Purisima, expressed opposition to the move to close the distillery plant citing how the company has helped their family and other residents in terms of livelihood.
"As to the foul odor concern, we support that. But it was already addressed," she said, stressing that if the plant closes down, what will happen to the displaced workers and their families.
The residents have already signed affidavits at the barangay in the hopes that their names with signatures on documents which to their surprise turned to be a petition against the plant will be nullified.
In a statement an earlier statement, the Group of Environmental Socialist (Goes) said affected communities have filed a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman against some respondents including Mayor Manuel Escalante III and officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), Barangay Purisima, and the VMC.
The Negros Occidental-based environment group said this is relative to the respondents' alleged failure to act on the complaint against the illegal operation of the distillery.
"Affected communities in its complaint claimed that public and private respondents allegedly violated Republic Act 8749 or the Clean Air Act, Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act, Presidential Decree 1586 or the Environmental Impact System and Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act," it said.
As to the claims of the residents, the Goes said they are not the one who initiated the gathering of signatures as a form of petition against the distillery plant.
'Resolve not dissolve'
For his part, Escalante, who was also at the open forum, said he does not support any form of pollution in the environment. He, however, cited the efforts of the alcohol-producing firm to address the concerns raised.
Escalante said they have issued a permit to the VMC as it has complete documents like that from the DENR, among others.
"This permit can be revoked anytime if the VMC fails to accomplish the required pollution-control measures," he said, adding that they have organized a team to monitor the situation in the area.
Escalante stressed "this shows that we are concerned about this issue, but I am also concerned about the future of the barangay to progress with the [help of] VMC."
The company, through its distillery plant, has been employing at least 80 town residents particularly of Barangay Purisima.
If the plant will close, for instance, the mayor said it will negatively impact especially the residents living within the company's property and those directly and indirectly benefited from the plant's operation.
Escalante said they had given the VMC the "second chance" to address the pollution concerns, "the company has committed and we saw its desire to do so."
"We are looking at a brighter future here, added income for the town and residents," he said, adding that they are more after to resolve the problems rather than dissolving the barangay.
He pointed out that if the company takes all its property, many residents of Barangay Purisima will be relocated and that its population will downsize to a sitio only.
Meanwhile, the mayor confirmed that there were complaints filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and Office of the President, and that they have already sent a reply on this matter along with important documents including permits they issued to the distillery plant.
The local government, he said, will also submit the counter affidavits of the residents whose names and signatures were used without their knowledge and consent.
NEGROS. The anaerobic digester forms part of over P200 million worth of developments of the Victorias Milling Company in its distillery plant in Barangay Purisima in Manapla town to address environmental concerns raised by the surrounding communities. (Erwin Nicavera)
November 10, 2020
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