We'll pay for medical bills of Bataan folk near coal plant, even if it's 'galis aso' - SMC's Ang
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MANILA - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will facilitate the transfer of an ash stockpile located inside Petron's Bataan refinery, which residents in Limay town claim is behind a rash of skin and respiratory ailments.
The company has denied responsibility and San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang said they will shoulder the medical bills of complaining residents, even if their ailments turn out to be 'galis aso' [scabies].
Enviroment Secretary Gina Lopez vowed to get to the bottom of the issue.
Under the initial DENR-sanctioned resolution, oil refiner Petron will be allowed to transfer an ash stockpile said to be causing the environment and health problems.
"Right now it's the mountain. The mountain is causing all the health problems. The mayor didn't give the permit. I'll give their permit and they are gonna take it out," Lopez said.
"They're gonna silo it so it doesn't go out at all and we'll see it happening," she added
Earlier, DENR issued a show-cause order against Petron and sister firm San Miguel Consolidated Power, whose coal-fired plant inside the Bataan refinery allegedly emitted ash and polluted a nearby river.
Lopez said, "one week and we'll address it. [If it's their] operations [that are] really the reason" for the deterioration in the people's health, "then we'll put a stop to it, but it has to be proven."
Lopez met with residents who traveled all the way from Bataan to the DENR's main office in Quezon City.
During the dialogue, she also called on SMC president Ramon Ang to air his side.
Ang denied that the plant was causing health problems, but nonetheless promised to cover medical expenses for affected residents.
"There is no dust, there is no smoke, there is no pollution. A lot of these things like those pictures that were shown -- galis and etcetera -- created by our plant is hearsay. What we should do is to address this. Those people who came in sick, [we will have them] checked in hospital; I will pay for it. If [it is] galis aso [scabies], I will pay for it also para magpagaling galis aso," Ang said in a telephone interview.
"Tell them not to jump to conclusions; if it's galis aso, not to blame it on us. Nevertheless, I will pay for whatever -- galis aso kahit anong sakit nila [whatever their ailment is]," Ang added.
His statement did not sit well with some residents who want the plant shuttered.
One of them, Alvin Pura, said, "sa side ni Ramon Ang, nakakainsulto. Kami yung apektado, lumalabas nagrereklamo kami tapos sinungaling kami [Mr. Ang's remark is insulting. We are the affected ones; but we are being made out as liars]."
Pura added, "sana naman 'wag magsilbing parang binabayaran kami. Obligasyon nila 'yun [I hope they don't make it appear like we're complaining so we can be paid off. It's their obligation to compensate for the damage]."
Resident Elpidio dela Cruz showed rashes on his skin, and said the health problems began after the plant started in 2013. "Nagkaroon na kami ng skin disease. Makikita pa hangang ngayon; at ubo. Isarado n'yo na yang company na' yan para sa ganon mapayapa kami sa kabuhayan [We still suffer from skin diseases and coughs. They should just close down that plant so our lives can go back to normal]."
Lopez said she plans to fire regional officials who did not respond immediately to the issue.
She is also in talks with health department to investigate the cause of the skin and respiratory diseases of residents.