Lanao, Misamis folk march to protest coal plants

LALA, Lanao del Norte -- Aldren Manisan, a fisherman from the coastal village of Muntay in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, skipped going ashore to tend to his nets on Monday.

Instead, he joined some 500 marchers in a 92-kilometer journey dubbed as the “Climate Walk” that began 6 a.m. Tuesday in Lala to catch government’s attention to an issue which is close to his heart.

The five-day walk to Iligan aims to dramatize the resistance of ordinary folks in Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental provinces to the plants.

The 200 or so participants hope to entice resident from the towns of Lanao del Norte that they will pass through to join.

At every town, there will be “whistle stops” in which the marchers visit the seat of the local government to present a people’s petition against the coal-fired power plant projects as well as seek more signatures for it.

In a statement, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) and Coal Resistance Movement (Core), main organizers of Climate Walk, urged the host local governments “to stop and reject the projects.”

The groups said ordinary folks who will directly bear the negative impact of the plants’ operations were “not substantially consulted,” leading them to suspect “there must be something fishy (in these projects) that they have to hide these from the public.”

“Excluding the people in deciding about these projects, which could redraw their lives and that of their communities, is tantamount to robbing them the right to a healthy environment,” said Roldan Gonzales, executive director of nongovernment group Gitib, Inc.

The planned power facility in Iligan will have a peak capacity of 20 megawatts (MW). The plant in Kauswagan, owned by Ayala-affiliated GN Power, is a 540-MW facility while that in Ozamiz, owned by Ozamiz Power Generation, Inc., will generate 300 MW.

When completed, the Kauswagan project will be Mindanao’s largest coal-fired plant.

The three plants are the latest wave of large-scale coal-fuelled capacities that are planned to be built in Mindanao. Similar projects are under way in Davao City and in Sarangani.

All three lie within a distance of 60 kilometers, the shortest being Kauswagan town and Iligan city at 20 kilometers. Gonzales’ group said the Kauswagan and Iligan plants are expected to deposit effluents into Iligan Bay, and the one in Ozamiz will contaminate Panguil Bay.

Panguil Bay is shared by Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental provinces. Both also share Iligan Bay with parts of Misamis Oriental.

The bays are the main source of fish for some 200,000 people in Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental and parts of Zamboanga del Sur.

“These plants are potential carbon emitters and they are to be built in one bay region. These could have significant impact on the quality of air, seawater and agricultural land in the region," said Regina Antequisa of the group Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits (EcoWEB).

Gonzales said that based on scientific studies, a 100-MW coal-fired plant could generate an accumulated 25 pounds of mercury in a year’s operation, enough to contaminate a 125,000-hectare body of water. That is three and a half times the size of the 34,000-hectare Lake Lanao.

“Just imagine three times that amount of pollutants dumped into Panguil Bay from the 300-MW power plant. That would be disaster to the more than 9,000 fishers whose livelihood depended on its bounty,” Gonzales stressed.

Spanning some 18,000 hectares, Panguil Bay has a coastline of 116 kilometers covering 12 towns in Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental.

Meanwhile, Iligan Bay, is much bigger, with an estimated coastline of 170 km and surface area of about 239,000 has that opens to the Bohol Sea.

Iligan Bay is recognized by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) as a major fishing ground. It also serves as an important food producer and living space for wildlife.

The drive to stave off a debilitating power crisis in Mindanao, if new capacities are not brought on-stream soon, has resulted in the flood of coal-fired thermal plant projects in the region.

While being the dirtiest source of energy, coal is also the cheapest, hence, its wide use especially in developing economies.

As of the first quarter of 2015, the Department of Energy has accounted for some 1,870 MW of power generation capacities already committed to be built in Mindanao. Of this, some 1,745 MW are coal-fired.

According to the DOE in 2013, Mindanao needs about 1,600 MW of new power generation capacities up to 2030 to cope with the rising demand for electricity.

In 2013, coal-fed facilities accounted for only 10 percent of total power generation capacity in Mindanao, with hydro taking the lion’s share with 52 percent.

When the indicative and committed projects are factored in, the proportion shifts radically, with coal accounting for 36 percent and hydro down to 35 percent.

This picture has local environmental advocates lamenting.

“There are other potential energy sources in the region, especially renewable ones. These must be exhausted before looking into non-renewable. We must rethink our energy policy so we can wean our economies away from dirty energy,” Antequisa pointed out.

Meanwhile, Manisan pushes on with the walk of his life, hoping his voice and that of his fellow marchers resonates in the halls of energy policymaking in the country. 


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