Locals, environmentalists seek termination of fossil gas projects, protection for Verde Island Passage

Communities around the Verde Island Passage (VIP) area and civil society organizations, led by the Protect VIP Campaign Network, on Tuesday condemned the construction of Linseed’s LNG import facility and San Miguel Corporation’s (SMC) combined cycle power plant project, and called for banks to withdraw their funding for the projects.

In two separate letters to Linseed Field Power Corporation President Herbert Hernane and SMC Global Power Corporation Chairman Ramon Ang, the groups expressed concerns regarding the expansion of LNG terminals in Batangas, which would cause detrimental and irreversible effects to the VIP and the local communities that are dependent on it.

“Pursuing these fossil gas projects is planting illness at the very heart of a global epicenter for marine biodiversity in the world. Life in the Verde Island Passage must continue thriving to sustain the millions of Filipinos who rely on it for food and to make a living,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez of the Social Action Center of Calapan (SAC) in Oriental Mindoro, lead convenor of Protect VIP.

Fisherfolk and workers in the tourism, diving, and other sectors will be most vulnerable to impacts of the two projects should they enter the construction and operation stages, which are feared to include an increase in the disposal of liquid waste and bilge water from ships and increasing risk of oil spills.

“Communities in Batangas and neighboring provinces are already reeling from the lost tourism and health troubles brought by COVID-19, and we cannot afford to lose VIP if we hope to revive our local industries in the near future. We hope these companies will listen to our pleas, and look to our local government officials to heighten efforts in protecting VIP,” said Jake Calangi, President of the Resorts Owners Association of Mabini (ROAM).

These calls were echoed by civil society and VIP stakeholders, including a dozen fisherfolk organizations, conservation groups such as Greenpeace Southeast Asia, faith-based and climate justice and action formations, and three bishops from the Catholic Church.

“The Church stands with communities in Batangas, Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon in this fight to preserve the VIP, because it is our duty to care for nature and the people who would be most affected by activities that hurt it. In the context of the ecological and climate crises we face, protecting our marine biodiversity must be an utmost priority,” said Bishop Colin Bagaforo, Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Protect VIP also issued letters to domestic and international banks and investors –  including Standard Chartered from the UK, DBS Bank from Singapore, Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Mizuho from Japan, Credit Suisse from Switzerland, Deutsche Bank AG from Germany, and Chinabank and DBP from the Philippines – which were recruited to finance these projects, urging them to halt their support.

“On top of harming what is among the last marine biodiversity frontiers in the world, proposed fossil gas and LNG facilities in Batangas are hindering what could be a swift transition to sustainable energy from renewables – of which we have an abundant supply that largely remains untapped – and stand in direct opposition to the ambition of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C. By funding these projects, these local and international banks are turning climate-vulnerable Philippines into a dump site for global gas supply, and allowing us to write our own climate death sentence,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and convenor of energy advocacy group Power for People Coalition (P4P).