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Congressman Raymond Palatino's Privilege Speech

May 21, 2012 ·  By Raymond V. Palatino

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NO TO SUBIC COAL

Privilege speech delivered on May 21, 2012, Monday. Drafting of speech was a collective effort. Special thanks to Rubelh.

raymond v. palatinoI rise to give voice to the clamor of the people of Zambales against the proposed 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Sitio Naglatore, Barangay Cawag in Subic, Zambales.

The project started out with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority or SBMA and Taiwan Cogeneration in 2006. The agreement contained provisions that the coal project would be a joint venture with SBMA, it would adopt high environmental standards, and it would provide affordable power to the Freeport area, Olongapo City and the greater local community. But the project terms were changed when Taiwan CoGen was joined by Meralco and Aboitiz Power Corp in a consortium called Redondo Peninsula Energy, Inc.

In a Lease and Development Agreement with SBMA signed in June 2010, the so-called joint venture between the RP Energy and SBMA was reduced to a mere Leasor and Leesee relationship at the rate of $3.50 per square meter for the whole 50 year period payable in long term. Nowhere in the contract would we find provisions on lower power rates for consumers.

The proponent claims that only green coal technology will be used but there is no such thing as an “environmentally-friendly coal-fired power plant”. The project, like the 11 existing coal-fired power plants in the country, poses real and grave threats.

Studies reveal that Sulphur Dioxide, one of the emissions of a coal plant, is the principal cause of acid rain. Acid rain will diminish forest cover and worsen the acidity of the soil and the water in affected areas. The coal plant will constantly contaminate and warm the seawater and reduce marine productivity. Huge volumes of greenhouse gas emissions would contribute significantly to global warming and climate change.

Coal ash containing toxic chemicals will be accumulated. Discharge of Nitrous Oxide, Sodium Oxide, and other heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium would adversely affect the health of the populace in the vicinity, causing cancer, mental retardation and permanent brain damage, gastrointestinal and kidney disorders, and ailments in the skin, lungs, heart and eyes.

In the Social Acceptability Process conducted by the SBMA last December 2011, all sectors registered their apprehension to the project. Our local government units saw no direct financial benefits for their constituents that would outweigh health risks. Aeta communities are alarmed over the possible detrimental impact of the plant on the rainforest in the area, which is the primary source of their livelihood and the heart of their heritage. Likewise, Freeport residents and tourism investors are worried over the deterioration of Subic Bay and the loss of its viability as a tourist destination.

Subic is a special economic zone located near a protected habitat. Even the SBMA acknowledges the unique biodiversity of the area through the Protected Area Management Plan it drafted in December 2001: “The Subic Bay Protected Area contains extremely high biodiversity values and high species endemism. The principal issue of concern here is that a rainforest environment of high quality is in very close proximity to a large concentration of human population and intense land use and economic activity. Maintenance of the ecological balance is dependent on exceptionally good protection from all sources of impact. Modification and change originating from human activity, whether deliberate or unwitting, will erode the rainforest ecosystem and consequently reduce its component elements (populations, habitats, species variation, etc). Ironically, if successfully managed and protected (even enhanced) the ecological values could in fact contribute greatly to the overall economic prosperity of the area.”

The proposed coal plant is located within the protected area.

Indeed, there are other environmental threats in the Subic Bay area and these must be seriously addressed by the government and the private sector in the affected municipalities of Morong, Dinalupihan, Hermosa and Subic Town. But it doesn’t weaken our position against the construction of the plant. In fact, it bolsters our argument in opposing the coal project. The coal plant can cause further damage to the region’s fragile ecosystem.

Why allow this destructive project to continue? The common answer is that coal is cheaper. However, cleaning the emissions to an acceptable level is extremely expensive and standards are usually ignored to save money and gain more profit. Coal would also not make electricity bills lower for the consumers. Because contracts will be pegged to the international market price of coal and oil, electricity prices would surely increase in the long run.

The Aquino administration has been actively pushing for the setting up of coal-fired power plants in different parts of the country as a response to the projected energy crisis. This power supply issue can be seen as a product of Aquino’s economic policy which is but a continuation of past administrations’ flawed concept of development: building the most favorable environment to attract foreign businesses under the framework of neoliberal globalization.

This flawed concept of development is being pushed at the expense of the environment. At this point it should be mentioned that among the industries contributing to the increasing demand for coal plants is mining. As a country that allows 100% foreign exploration of land aside from other incentives, we have attracted foreign mining corporations whose operations continue to destroy our natural resources.

In this context we must aim not simply for renewable and cleaner sources of energy, but for a long term economic policy that would balance the need for environment protection with the demands of the business community. Also, the preservation of our finite natural resources against wanton local and foreign plunder is a non-negotiable demand.

We are not against development projects that will spur the local economy, create jobs, and revive the investment attractiveness of our communities. But development projects often degenerate into development aggression if proponents in collusion with public officials only prioritize the profitability of their investments at the expense of the environment and land rights of the people.

For almost a century, we were deprived of the privilege to enjoy the clean waters of Subic and the majestic mountains surrounding it because of the presence of a US military base in the area. Two decades ago, we closed the base and transformed it into an economic and ecological preservation zone. For many years, Subic has served as a viable model for towns which want to promote eco-tourism and manufacturing at the same time. It’s a prime destination for nature tripping, business conventions, and investment opportunities.

But how long can Subic retain its appeal if the environment threats are not adequately addressed today? Will Subic continue to attract tourists if a coal plant is allowed to destroy not only the scenery but also the ecological balance in the area?

The youth of the future have the right to use the resources of Subic for the upliftment of their lives and the general progress of the community. But the coal plant, along with other environment threats, could easily ruin our dream of establishing a greener and cleaner future for our children.

Instead of lush forests, rich marine habitats, and vibrant communities, our children will have to deal with the depletion of resources, the loss of biodiversity, and the proliferation of radioactive wastes. They will suffer the dirty consequences for our lack of foresight and political will to save our environment today. They do not deserve to inherit a polluted environment.

What should we do? At the minimum, continue the consultations with the stakeholders especially the affected residents. Stop all constructions in the coal plant site. We enjoin our LGU officials to make a firmer and bolder stand to oppose the project. There should be bias for renewable sources of energy considering the strategic importance of Subic in our national eco-tourism plan.

I’m not a resident of Subic but I’m one of the millions of Filipinos who wish to preserve its natural wealth and beauty so that the next generation will continue to appreciate it and have more fun when visiting the place.

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