IT’S ABOUT TIME: Affected communities defend new DENR Chief’s anti-mining, anti-coal stance

Residents from areas affected by mining and coal projects approve of newly-appointed Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez’s firm stance against large-scale mining and coal-fired power plants, defending her against insinuations from fossil fuel and mining proponents.Dr. Benito Molino of the Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz, Zambales (CCOS) pointed out how difficult it was for mining-affected residents of the province to stop the onslaught of destructive practices brought about by four mining companies simultaneously operating in the area. “We have gone back and forth from the barricades in our hometown to the office of the DENR Secretary in Quezon City only to find that they cannot enforce their suspension orders,” said Molino.“With Ms. Lopez in-charge of the Department, we can at least expect open ears to our qualms as residents of mined areas, especially as our health, lives and safety, as well as our livelihood, are being threatened by these mining corporations,” Molino added.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court finally granted a temporary environmental protection order ceasing the activities of the Benguet Corporation Nickel Mines Incorporated (BNMI), Eramen Minerals Incorporated, LNL Archipelago Minerals Incorporated and Zambales Diversified Metals Corporation, as well as the Shangfil Mining and Trading Corporation, in light of “destruction of the ecosystem in Santa Cruz, Zambales, and its neighboring municipality of Candelaria, Zambales, extending up to Infanta, Pangasinan.”

“With Lopez at the helm of DENR, we expect the department to be more decisive in implementing the course of action mandated by the SC decision,” said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa of Sanlakas, who represented the CCOS and other petitioners in the case. “We welcome her appointment as it is about time that DENR had a change of heart when it comes to approving environmentally-destructive and harmful projects,”  Pedrosa added.

Pedrosa noted that the anti-mining and anti-coal stance of the incoming Secretary is in direct opposition to the policies and positions expressed by the incumbent Aquino administration. Pedrosa, however, warned against the pushback she will inevitably face from the mining and coal sector, as well as their allies in the government.

Just this Tuesday, Duterte’s appointment of Lopez as head of DENR was blamed for the large drop in mining shares. Meanwhile, Dr. Carlo A. Arcilla, professor of geosciences at the University of the Philippines, had recently said that Lopez had a “naïve” view of mining and criticized her for her alleged “lack of scientific training and discernment.”

“What those from the mining sector should understand is that given the current mining regime provided by the Mining Act of 1995, the Filipino people lose more than they get from large-scale mining in the Philippines,” said Pedrosa.

Pedrosa pointed out the importance of creating a comprehensive replacement plan for extraction which strongly safeguards the rights of affected communities and indigenous peoples and provides new, stricter guidelines and regulations for mining companies. “Until the Altenative Minerals Management Bill is signed into law, a moratorium on mining is the most amenable solution for mining related problems in our country,” Pedrosa concluded.

‘Glimmer of hope’ seen by anti-coal residents of Batangas City

Residents of Batangas City also received Lopez’s appointment warmly, given that the City Council of Batangas had just recently approved a proposed 600 MW coal-fired power plant to be constructed near Verde Island, a known center for biodiversity.

“Many citizens of Batangas felt betrayed after the project was permitted, given that we have continually and repeatedly urged our leaders not to support it,” said incumbent Councilor Kristine Balmes.

Balmes, who ran for mayor underthe banner of Duterte’s PDP-Laban, cited the 10,000-strong Piglas Batangas mobilization against coal as a clear manifestation of the stance of Batanguenos regarding coal. “While members of the city council have failed to side with the people, we can at least hope that the incoming President and his DENR Secretary will have a strong stance against coal-fired power plants,” Balmes added.

Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) Convenor Gerry Arances stated that the next six years could possibly be the beginning of the end of coal in the Philippines, ushering in the age of increased renewable energy.
“The initiative to increase the share of renewable energy in the power mix has been long overdue since the Renewable Energy Act was passed in 2008,” said Arances. “And this has been in part of the previous administration’s enthusiasm to allow the construction of more coal-fired power plants in the country,” he added.

Arances pointed out that internationally, coal has been being increasingly abandoned due to the risks it posed to health, the environment and economies of the world. “It would be blind for the government and the business sector to insist on creating new coal-fired power plants in light of the fact that it is being globally phased out,” he said.

Arances emphasized that the issue of coal is more than just an issue of health and climate, it is also an issue of growth and development. “According to a recent Oxford study, the construction of new coal plants will only bind the Philippines to a dirty, harmful and costly energy source for the next 25 years, by which time coal technology is already an obsolete relic from the past,” Arances stated.

“In his responses to the Green Thumb Presidential Survey, Rodrigo Duterte explicitly said that coal and coal mining has to stop in this country, and showed support for renewable energy like solar and wind as alternatives to dirty energy,” said Arances. “This stance is particularly shared by Lopez, who has worked hand in hand with the Green Thumb Coalition in emphasizing the importance of environmental issues in the previous elections.”