Energy Firm to Start Exploration in Mt. Kanlaon; Negrenses Face Great Risks


The approval by the provincial government of a memorandum allowing the entry of Energy Development Corporation, formerly PNOC-EDC, into the 169-hectare buffer zone of Mt. Kanlaon National Park, poses a danger to the people of Negros. If such activities are not stopped, Negros might experience the same kind of devastation as that of Iloilo and Aklan during typhoon Frank.

BY KARL G. OMBION
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 24, July 20-26, 2008

BACOLOD CITY – Negros Occidental Governor Isidro Zayco has recently signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) allowing the expansion of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) inside the Mt. Kanlaon National Park (MKNP).

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza earlier granted EDC a tree cutting permit within the 169-hectare buffer zone.

The MoA of EDC and the provincial government purportedly intends to address the Negros Occidental’s power needs but at the same time commits to preserve and protect the environment and the resources in MKNP. It also requires the EDC to sell power at a price lower than or equal to that of the alternative power projects and to give priority in the sale of its electricity to the electric cooperatives in Negros island.

The MoA also reiterated the conditions set in the governor’s Executive Order creating an Oversight, Monitoring and Compliance Committee, to which the EDC will have to submit a detailed work program and a stand and stock table covering its activities in the 169-hectare MKNP buffer zone.

The MoA also includes a stipulation that the EDC must confine its geothermal development activities within the perimeters duly delineated and established by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in coordination with the Park Board and the Oversight committee; that the EDC must ensure that the cutting of trees with a diameter of 100 centimeters and beyond shall be limited to only 34 trees, and that it should exert all efforts to minimize the cutting of trees to a number lower than 34.

The MoA further required the EDC to institute and implement a Comprehensive Environmental and Reforestation Program to mitigate the effects of the exploration inside the buffer zone, and states that its reforestation activity at the MKNP shall involve 160,000 trees planted and grown over a span of five years to cover an area of 400 hectares; and provided that the cutting of trees by the EDC shall be done in the presence of the Oversight, Monitoring and Compliance Committee, and the company should give preference to the people residing in the locality for its unskilled labor requirement in its exploration activities.

EDC President and CEO Paul Aquino told local media that he was grateful to Zayco and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Council), saying that they have stood up for what is right and legal.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, on the other hand, welcomed the decision by the provincial government, saying, “With the signing of the memorandum of agreement, EDC can now tap additional geothermal power to generate the province’s much needed power,” and added that “those who oppose the project should respect the decision of the local government and the desire of majority of Negrenses to support the project in answer to the power shortfall of the province.”

The decision, however, was scored by progressive organizations and various environmental groups in the region, who said that it will open the floodgate for further deforestation of MKNP and thus complete the process of destroying the remaining frontiers of the region.

Bayan Muna (People First) Provincial Chairperson Alejandro Deoma slammed the signing of the MoA allowing EDC to conduct exploration in MKNP, saying that it poses great risks to the people of Negros, considering the already critical state of the island’s forests.

“If such activities are not stopped,” Deoma said, “Negros will likely experience the same kind of devastation that struck Iloilo and Aklan recently.”

MKNP is a protected area

Mt. Kanlaon has been categorized by Republic Act No. 9154 as a natural park because it is an important watershed of Northern and Central Negros. It serves as headwater catchment of three major river systems in the island, namely: Bago, Nahatin and Binalbagan, which supply irrigation water to 158,500 hectares or one-fifth of the Negros Occidental’s entire land area.

Mt. Kanlaon is a protected area included in the Top Ten Priority Sites for Conservation of the Philippine government, which is why RA 9154 or the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) Act of 2001 was enacted to protect and conserve it.

Based on 1989 Swedish Space Agency satellite data, Negros has only 39,630 hectares (4.77 percent) forest cover left. Since then, incidence of deforestration and denudation continue unabated throughout the island, causing local environmental advocates to assert that the remaining forest cover of the island may now only be between 3.5 percent and four percent.

The current rate is already alarmingly below the 40-percent forest cover needed to maintain a balanced ecosystem on the island.

“The 169 hectares is a very a huge area, a home to diverse flora and fauna species. Cutting more trees in MKNP or elsewhere in Negros will certainly imperil the Negrense’s water supply, agriculture and will entail irreparable damage to whatever biodiversity,” Deoma said

Deoma also clarified that Section 5 of RA 9154 provides that “any geothermal exploration for or development of energy or mineral resources within the MNKP shall not be allowed except by an Act of Congress. This provision shows clearly that any geothermal exploration can only be done only through an act of Congress. Gloria [Macapagal-Arroyo] and her environment chief Atienza should not jump the gun on the public as this is clearly illegal.”

He added that the government’s decision to pursue this project is illegal as it violates the many of our nation’s laws and international environment covenants that the Philippines is a party to.

No power shortage

EDC has sought entry into the buffer zone to tap more geothermal energy for its Northern Negros Geothermal Production Field in Mailum, Bago City, to meet a supposed projected power shortage in Negros Occidental.

But militant groups disputed the claims of EDC and even by the local governments that Negros is having a power shortage.

Felipe Gelle of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance)-Negros said that there is enough power supply for the entire Negros generated by the Palipinon geothermal power plant in Negros Oriental.

“The EDC’s plan to tap geothermal energy in Mt. Kanlaon is actually intended not for the poor power consumers of Negros but for the big businesses and multinational corporations coming in, including those putting up expansions in neighboring islands of Panay and Cebu,” Gelle said.

He added that even if there would be more power supply in Negros, the poor will not benefit from it because the EDC, like the big oil cartels, will just continue to hike the costs of their power to rake in super profits.

Class suit

The Save Mt. Kanlaon Coalition, a loose movement of various environmentalist groups, has recently sought the immediate stoppage to the entry of EDC into the buffer zone surrounding MKNP for geothermal development.

Lawyer Andrea Si, the group’s legal counsel and one of the pioneering members, said that they have filed a prohibitory injunction with temporary restraining order against the EDC’s operations in MKNP.

The group has asked the court to declare as unconstitutional sections of RA 9154 creating a 169-hectare MKNP buffer zone for development of geothermal energy resources, and Presidential Proclamation No. 1005 that declares a 1,475-hectare area in the MKNP as a geothermal block.

They also asked the court to declare a 1995 Environment Compliance Certificate granted EDC for geothermal development invalid, and to render void its DENR tree-cutting permit within the buffer zone.

Two hundred ninety-one complainants, including 87 children, joined the filing of a class suit against Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, the Energy Development Corp., and the Protected Area Management Board of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park before the Bacolod City Regional Trial Court.

Bacolod City Councilor Celia Flor, who is also a member of the Save Mt. Kanlaon Coalition, has urged the public to support their opposition to the MOA, and appealed for various support to their campaign. Bulatlat

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One Response to “Energy Firm to Start Exploration in Mt. Kanlaon; Negrenses Face Great Risks”

  1. GreenWatch Philippines Says:

    Tie Yellow Ribbons to help Save 4000 Trees in Mt. Kanlaon

    Bacolod City – The Green Alert together with the “Save Mt. Kanla-on” Coalition launched a “Tie a Yellow Ribbon to Save 4,000 Trees in Mt. Kanla-on” campaign to gather and visibly show the Negrenses’ support to lady-lawyer Andrea Si for her filing of a TRO, which will be heard today, in a bid to prevent the PNOC-EDC from cutting more than 4,000 trees inside the Mt. Kanlaon buffer zone. Gov. Zayco recently signed the MOA which gave the PNOC-EDC the go signal to start the cutting of the trees, which they immediately began last Monday. Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra endorsed the campaign in a letter to Catholic schools.

    “We are appealing to the faculty and students of these catholic schools to stand up and show their support to today’s TRO hearing. They can show this by tying yellow ribbons on their arms, wrists, their cars, by donning yellow t-shirts or by simply wearing anything yellow, The youth should play a vital role knowing that this is for their own future. We should not forget that these trees too have lives and cutting them is no different from killing a human being. We owe a lot to these trees for providing us the Oxygen that we breathe everyday; we should bring that favor back to them,” Green Alert said. “We also encourage other sectors of the community to stand up and join us in this crusade. Every Negrense must participate in this cause because it affects our heritage and our future.” Green Alert added.

    Green Watch Philippines, Inc. chairman Don Flordeliza, Jr. expressed his group’s solidarity and support to the “Save Mt. Kanla-on” Coalition’s bid for a TRO in a press conference held at the Bishop’s palace last Monday. He reported that they formed a “Save Mt. Kanla-on” Task Force in Manila and exerted efforts to bring the problem to the attention of various environmental forums and the national and foreign media. Flordeliza said he cannot take the issue sitting down, because he was born and raised in Canla-on City himself.

    Flordeliza said that PNOC-EDC cannot give any assurance that their exploration activities in the Mt. Kanla-on buffer zone can immediately locate an ideal geothermal site, and once a site is located they cannot also guarantee that is will produce enough steam to operate a plant. Even after a plant is operated as they have already done before, they cannot further guarantee that it will produce enough power to answer the supposed deficiency in electricity in the province as they claim; they might even have to close it also as the previous one, Flordeliza emphasized. What is assured, however, is that more than 4,000 trees will be cut.

    Flordeliza said that innovation and technology had developed within the 15 years that PNOC-EDC had spent on the project since 1993. “Are they not insisting to implement an outmoded proposal?” he asked “We are asking for a symbolic 15 month moratorium on the project, one month for each year that PNOC-EDC spent on it’” Flordeliza challenged. “This will give us enough time to beef up the entry of businessmen who will put up an independent power producing firm, using windmill technology, who will sell their power output back to the grid,” he added. “In a few months time, while they PNOC-EDC are still exploring, a windmill is already operational that can be put up without the government spending even a single centavo on it. Furthermore, not a single tree will be cut inside Mt. Kanla-on’s buffer zone or protected areas,” he concluded.

    Other alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and mini-hydro’s have long been pushed by various environmental groups. “There are alternatives that the government should have taken into consideration. Negros alone, being a part of the wind map of the Philippines, can produce 90 mega-watts of electricity by putting up windmills.” Green Alert said.

    “Saving these 4,000 trees in Mt. Kanla-on symbolizes our way of investing for our children’s future. If we refuse to learn from lessons in the past, it will be our children who will pay the price in the end.” Green Alert said.

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