Marbel bishop leads protest vs coal plant in Sarangani

Leading the “Earth Day” protest actions here this morning, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez urged the people to take a united stand and raise their opposition against the planned coal plant project of Conal Holdings Corp. in Maasim, Sarangani at a higher level. 

“It's alright to pray and launch education campaigns. But this time, we need to take up bigger actions and let our national leaders know that we are really opposing this, for the sake of ourselves and our future generations,” the bishop said at a protest rally in front of the city hall complex here.

Around 600 parishioners and members of civil society, environmental and sectoral groups coming from this city and seven municipalities of Sarangani, earlier staged a caravan around the city and converged in front of the city hall's Carlos Garcia Park to dramatize their protests against the coal plant project.

Police authorities shut down a portion of the Roxas East Avenue for at least four hours here as placard-carrying protesters filled the area.

During the protest rally, which is part of the two-day Earth Day Catholic church and civil society-led mass actions against the coal plant and mining activities in the area, the organizers presented a manifesto declaring their opposition against the proposed coal plant.

The three-page manifesto was signed by leaders and representatives of the Diocese of Marbel, Hesed Foundation-Oblates of Notre Dame, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Soccsksargends Agenda, Akbayan, Hublag Kontra Mina, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and various Catholic church parishes.

They cited that based on facts and experiences by areas in the country that hosted coal plants, the proposed coal-fired Southern Mindanao Power Plant project in Sitio Tampuan, Barangay Kamanga in Maasim, Sarangani will not bring sustainable development in the area but will only aggravate environmental degradation and eventually pose serious health problems among residents.

They claimed that the project may increase rates of various diseases, pollute waters and seas, produce acid rain, reduce biodiversity and eventually exacerbate climate change.

“We manifest our vehement opposition to the planned construction of the coal-fired power plant. We call on government agencies and proponent company — Conal Holdings — to abandon the plan,” they said in the manifesto.

Conal Holdings, which is currently processing its environmental clearance certificate (ECC) , earlier announced that it would commence the construction of the proposed power plant by October this year. 

Conal Holdings is 60 percent controlled by Alsons Corp. The rest is controlled by the Electricity Generating Public Company (Egco), Thailand's biggest power producer.

The company is investing $450 million on the project, which was eyed by the government as among the power resources that will help stabilize Mindanao's power requirements before the projected power supply shortfall by 2012.

Amalie Obusan, Greenpeace Southeast Asia's climate and energy campaigner, said the proposed coal plant project may eventually stop a projected power shortage and even lower power rates in the area but stressed that such benefits would be too small when compared to the destruction that it will bring to the area's populace and the environment.

She warned that the operations of coal plants may cause residents to acquire cancer, lung and heart illnesses and it will help increase the spread of other diseases such as dengue and malaria.

“The bigger impact (of the operations of these coal plants) is climate change and we, in the Philippines, and the rest of the world are feeling the heat right now,” she said.

Obusan said residents should make their voices stronger to pressure the government to stop the establishment of more coal plants in the country and invest more on renewable sources of energy.

“We don't have to embrace these projects just because we are facing a power crisis here. We have other alternative sources of energy such as geothermal and hydro-power plants that pose less impact on our environment,” she added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews )