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SBMA, Zambales leaders united in plea to Aquino vs coal plant

July 11, 2012 ·  , Gonzaga, Robert. " SBMA, Zambales leaders united in plea to Aquino vs coal plant" June 20, 2012. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/216181/sbma-zambales-leaders-united-in-plea-to-aquino-vs-coal-plant.

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Groups opposing the construction of a coal-fired power plant in this free port are not losing hope and have turned to President Benigno Aquino for help to stop the project, which is being pushed by one of Mr. Aquino’s best buddies, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras.

In statements posted online and sent to the Inquirer, Zambales and Olongapo City officials, residents, nongovernment organizations and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) officials said the President should deliver on his promises and do the right thing by heeding the appeal of his “bosses” on this issue.

The appeal came amid Almendras’ warning of a power shortage in Luzon by 2015 if the proposed 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant project of Redondo Peninsula Energy Inc. (RP Energy) is blocked.

SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said he had asked the President to relocate the coal-fired power plant due to the danger it poses to the free port and its surrounding communities and its impact on Subic’s ecotourism potential.

Garcia said RP Energy has a “highly disadvantageous contract” with SBMA, which requires the company to pay only P1 million every year to government.

RP Energy’s contract was approved by the board appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It is now being challenged by Garcia, Mr. Aquino’s appointee.

In the Facebook page, “No to coal plant in Subic Bay,” which has attracted more than 5,000 members, groups opposing the coal plant assailed Almendras and officials of RP Energy, a consortium of energy companies Aboitiz Power Corp., Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Taiwan Cogen Corp., for pushing the project.

Almendras is the former treasurer of Aboitiz Ventures Inc., the holding company of the Aboitiz family, who is known to be close to the Arroyos when Ms Arroyo was still in power.

Former Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes, a free port resident, said he was hoping that Mr. Aquino would side with the SBMA board.

“It is either he listens to his good appointees or his campaign contributors. That is the bottom line,” said De los Reyes, the standard bearer of the party Ang Kapatiran who ran and lost in the 2010 presidential elections.

De los Reyes said the coal-fired power plant issue would test Mr. Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” (straight path) slogan.

“Will he side with what is democratic, environmentally sound and sustainable, or will he favor oligarchic interests that profit from one-time-big-time deals that obliterate environmental stewardship for the next generation? Let us see if the SBMA board and Malacañang are on the same page when it interprets the ‘straight path,’” he said.

In an earlier statement, Aaron Domingo, the Meralco PowerGen executive vice president and general manager, said RP Energy has no plan to move out of Subic because the consortium has a valid contract with SBMA.

Zambales Vice Gov. Ramon Lacbain II said RP Energy should “go somewhere else where they will not be a burden to the community and its environment.”

“I support the [position] of SBMA to urge President Aquino to order RP Energy to look for another site outside of Subic,” Lacbain said.

Almendras, in a statement, said he based his prediction of an impending power crisis on projections made by his department.

“At the rate that consumption is growing and if we expect the economy to grow at the pace we’re growing, we will need at least another 600-MW power plant in 2015, another one in 2016 and another in 2017. We want to make sure that nothing goes wrong,” he said.

Almendras also urged SBMA to allow RP Energy to build the coal plant here.

But in a recent interview, Garcia said he had insisted to Almendras that it was not necessary to build the coal plant in Subic.

The project has been stalled by protests from environment advocates, business locators and government officials of Olongapo City and Zambales.

In December last year, SBMA held a series of stakeholder consultations on the coal-fired power plant but RP Energy failed to send its representatives to discuss the project and address the concerns of groups opposing it.

The free port’s stakeholders rejected the project in the social acceptability process conducted by SBMA last year.

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