The issuance by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to the coal-fired power plant facility in Palawan has cleared the way for its proponent, DMCI Powers Inc., to finally get this controversial project going, after years battling local and national opposition.

Narra mayor Gerandy Danao, a political newbie who managed to upset the entrenched Demaala family during the last local elections, now finds himself facing pressure from some of his constituents who continue to oppose the project to refuse the construction of the controversial facility in Barangay Bato-Bato.

On Friday this week, tribal leaders from the area joined the anti-coal lobby group Save Palawan Movement in a press conference to call on Danao not to issue a mayor’s permit to the project, the final hurdle that the power company has to make. For his part, Mayor Danao has remained non-committal to a position, stating that he needs to consult the proponents including the provincial government which has previously endorsed the project.

To be sure the DENR’s issuance of an ECC to the coal plant project is not to be construed as final approval. It merely appears to be so because it had become a major stumbling block for DMCI when the previous DENR leadership under Gina Lopez refused to grant it.

Prior to its ECC issuance, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) had endorsed it much earlier, along with the provincial government of Palawan through a formal resolution by its legislature.

But even the DENR has stressed that the ECC is merely a “planning tool” to guide a project into adhering with environmentally acceptable practices, which in the case of a coal plant facility is by ensuring it will not cause pollution and health risks.

To be sure, it is not mandatory on the part of a local executive like Mayor Danao to issue business and operating permit to it just because it already has both the SEP clearance from the PCSD and an ECC from the DENR.

Mayor Danao is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, as he is also expected to face pressure from the proponents of the project. It is an unfair situation for him, if only because the contentious issues surrounding the coal plant project goes beyond the parochial concerns of the municipality of Narra where DMCI plans to establish its facility.

It becomes, however, a litmus test for the Danao to demonstrate his political will and capability to make decisions and stand by it.

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