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DENR in middle of blame game as Bataan folk reel from coal plant pollution

File composite image of SMC's Ramon Ang and Petron. San Miguel's big boss denied that a power plant inside the Petron refinery in Bataan was to blame for residents' environmental and health woes, and instead pointed to the nearby Bataan thermal power plant formerly owned by the National Power Corporation. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE

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MANILA - An NGO that bills itself as the largest climate justice group in the Philippines has called for the urgent cessation of the operations and construction of the existing coal-fired power plants in Limay, Bataan owned by San Miguel Corporation and Petron, citing reported environmental and health cases.

The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) took note of media reports showing residents of Barangay Lamao in Limay town ticking off a litany of problems due to waste, including ash fall, from the nearby power plant.

In interviews by Bloomberg TV Philippines, one resident, Nelgie Santos, complained: "Nagpasingaw po sila ng napakabahong amoy. Malalangahap po namin yun. Nakakatuyo po ng lalamunan [They released something with a terrible stink, which we inhaled; it dries the throat]."

Another resident, Boy Pascual who is also president of the Limay Concerned Citizens, weighed in: "Are illnesses being recorded. Many, sir. Mainly respiratory ailments are being monitored," he said, speaking in Filipino.

Residents claimed ash from the plant is causing pollution, getting into food and water supplies and also fouling the sea. 

Limay Mayor Lilver Roque said stricter measures have to be put in place to keep the waste from leaking into the environment.

"Ihihinto ang pagdudumping nila doon. Ngayon, ang mangyayari iko-commission sila ng panibagong order na ilalabas. Hindi na sila doon magtatapon. 'yun ang pinag-utos. Depende kung gaano kalaki ang volume. Alam naman natin na hindi lang retaining wall o confinement ang kinakailangan kasi sa hangin natin nako-contaminate," said Mayor Roque.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is investigating the complaint and said a cease and desist order will be issued to the company involved.

"I'm issuing a cease and desist order to whatever company that was that caused all the damage there. People's health [is at risk]. I saw the pictures of the children; we have to stop right now. That happened in september and i saw pics yesterday morning... There's something very wrong," said Secretary Gina Lopez in a phone interview.

Lopez said she has already issued the order "yesterday it should be out by today."

Initial reports said the DENR had already served an order against San Miguel Corporation, which controls oil company Petron that has a refinery in Limay.

Not us - SMC's Ang

San Miguel president Ramon Ang denied that a power plant inside the refinery was to blame, and instead pointed to the nearby Bataan thermal power plant formerly owned by the National Power Corporation.

Napocor, however, said the plant hasn't been running since 2000 and couldn't have been the source of pollution.

In a statement, Napocor said: "The Bataan thermal power plant is not with NPC anymore. It has not been operational for more than 15 years; hence, could not have been the cause of any recent ash spewing in the area. Unit no.2 was decomissioned in February 1999 and Unit no.1 was decommissioned in 2000. The decomissioned BTPP plant was turned over to PSALM for privatization by virtue of EPIRA."

It was earlier reported that the DENR's environmental management bureau (EMB) had issued a violation notice against Petron late last year over an ash storage site. The firm is said to be currently conducting a clean-up.

In a TV interview, Ang said Petron was only helping and was not the cause of the waste. In a separate statement, the refiner also said its ash dump was vetted by the DENR  and had the necessary permits.

Petron said in a statement: "Our ash pond is located within our facility and near our offices. It has the necessary regional and local permits from the DENR, is surrounded by dikes, and regularly watered to prevent dispersion."

Petron added that "ash from the pond, certified by DENR as non-hazardous, will be used as raw material for our cement manufacturing plant. Nevertheless, we assure that we will continue to assist the residents and work with the denr and the municipality to do what is right and necessary."

Pollution checks are now being conducted by the environment department, which said it will also coordinate with health authorities to address residents' complaints.

PCMJ's urgent call

Monday morning, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), the largest climate justice group in the Philippines, said the coal-fired plants must stop operation immediately.

PMCJ noted media reports showing residents of Barangay Lamao detailing their misery allegedly from ashfall from the coal: pasturelands for animals, water supplies, fishing grounds, all polluted and dried up.

One of them, Angelyn Bolitres, of Sitio Pexsite in the said barangay, said her father died last September due to a lung problem.

The PMCJ quoted residents saying they have been raising their complaints to the government agencies concerned for the past four years since they have experienced, not just drastic changes in the environment, but also deteriorating health conditions manifested by different respiratory and skin diseases. Residents said that the highest percentage of mortality rate has been recorded in Limay in the last four years.  

“This is just one area that is greatly affected by the environmental and health violations of these CFPPs in Bataan. We also have other areas that experience more abuses like demolition and forced eviction of the residents without decent relocation to give way in the expansion of coal plants", said Derec Cabe, Coordinator of the Nuclear Free Bataan Movement. “Now that the issues of the resident of the Sitio Pexsite were raised, it’s about time we also look into the situation of other towns in Bataan. Sooner or later, barangays surrounding these coal-fired power plants will experience the same on their lands,” Cabe was quoted by PCMJ as saying.

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