NARRA, Palawan — Amidst pressure from opposing sides regarding the planned construction of a coal-fired power generation facility here, the town’s newly-elected mayor said Wednesday he will await the outcome of a public consultation process he had initiated among his constituents and will decide on his course of action.
Mayor Gerandy Danao told Palawan News he will not issue a “permit to operate” to DMCI Powers Inc. if the consultations tilted towards opposition to the controversial project. He added, however, that he may allow the company at the same time to construct the plant facility itself through the issuance of a building permit.
“Iba kasi ‘yong permit ng building, iba naman ‘yong sa operation. Mismong sa building code, kapag magtatayo ka ng building, kailangan mong mag-comply ng requirements. Kapag nag-comply siya ng requirements, wala tayong karapatan para pigilan ‘yong ‘pagta-tayo niya ng building,” Danao said.
“Hindi naman sila makakapag-operate ‘pag walang (business) permit. Kelangan nilang kumuha ng permit. Iba ang permit ng operation ng coal, iba naman ‘yong sa building. Ini-issue ‘yan parehas ng Mayor’s Office,” he added.
Danao has called for a town hearing on the issue on October 12, to be attended by his constituencies.
“Kung saan ang majority doon tayo,” Danao said.
DMCI Powers Inc., the company which secured a 25MW power supply deal with the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) as far back as 2012, has not been able to put up its plant facility due mainly to legal challenges raised by the opposition, including an outright denial of its environmental compliance certificate (ECC) by former environment secretary Gina Lopez.
In July however, current DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu approved the project’s ECC following the project’s inclusion in the list of priority projects endorsed by Malacanang.
Danao’s position has drawn both support and criticisms from various sectors including the provincial government which has been pushing for the project.
Palawan Provincial Legal Office (PLO) chief Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta told Palawan News in a phone interview Wednesday what Danao stated is probable, but will defy the national government’s vision to address the energy crisis.
Matta said the national government is actually promoting the construction of independent power producers (IPPs).
“Ang problema lang diyan kapag ginawa niya ‘yan at wala siyang legal na basehan, eh baka magka-problema lang siya. Alam mo kasi, ang mga requirements ng ‘permit to operate’ [and] ‘building permit’ lahat ‘yan ‘pag na-comply mo, dapat ministerial na lang ‘yan,” Matta said.
“Ang hirap kasi ng if you are going to dribble, you have to have sufficient grounds. Kasi kung hindi, baka ipatawag ka ng Malacañang, administratively liable ka pa. Pero hindi naman masama kung bigyan niya ng chance na pakinggan ang mga ibang sector, basta ang aksyon lang niya ay factual at may legal basis walang problema ‘yon,” he added.
Narra Vice Mayor Crispin Lumba, a supporter of the coal plant project, insisted that the mayor’s permit and the building permit should go together.
“I don’t know kung puwede ba ‘yon. Siyempre kung aapprove-an mo ang construction ng power plant, included na ‘yong pagpapa-operate nito,” Lumba said.
Lumba said even the SB could retract its earlier endorsement of the coal-fired power plant, but added that it will not matter since the Department of Energy (DOE) has already classified it as an “energy project of national significance”.
“Ibig-sabihin, national agency na po ang nag-deklara nito na kailangan ito, kailangan ito natin, kailangan ito ng bayan. So kahit bawiin naming ang resolution wala nang epekto doon. We cannot overturn the decision of national agencies,” Lumba said.
In a phone interview, Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, the executive director of Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), said the building permit and permit to operate are indeed independent of each other.
However, she stressed that ideally, the business permit must be issued first prior to the building permit.
“Therefore we will have to rely on the discernment of the good mayor on what he believes would have been complied by DMCI. While it can be independent of each other, meron ‘yang relationship, may logic ‘yan,” said Anda.
Dr. Glenn Sopsop, the head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science (DFES) in Western Philippines University (WPU) main campus, presented during the meeting with Danao on Wednesday the negative impacts of having a coal-fired power plant in Narra, most especially to the health of its constituents.
“It is harmful to human health to the environment itself. Kapag hindi maganda ang environment mo, hindi siya healthy, hindi rin healthy ang tao,” said Sopsop.
Narra Pro-Coal Movement
On Wednesday morning, an estimated 400 members of the Narra Pro-Coal Movement (NPCM) also staged a peaceful rally in the municipality in support of the DMCI’s controversial coal plant project.
Bato-Bato barangay chairman Ernesto Ferrer said the figure was from the NPCM’s master list.
Many of them are residents and barangay officials of Bato-Bato, Panacan, Antipuluan, and Poblacion.
Among the leaders of the movement, Ferrer explained that their goal is for people in their town to have a balanced opinion about the coal-fired power plant.
“Ang sa atin lang naman doon ay makita ‘yong suporta ng aming mga kabarangay dahil syempre ang mga kabarangay natin nasasaktan na rin doon sa mga pino-post ng mga anti-coal against sa kanilang punong barangay… ang katunayan niyan, nilagay pa kami sa tarpaulin at ipinababatid sa mga tao na kami daw ang nag-endorso. Okay naman ‘yon na sabihin na kami ang nag-endorso pero personal na ang ginagawa nila, pambabastos na ang ibang sinasabi. Kung baga nawala na sa topic ng mga nag-anti-coal,” he said.
Some of the pro-coal protesters were 11 youth leaders who joined their previous tours to personally check the coal power plants of DMCI Power Corp.
Ferrer said Bato-Bato endorsed the DMCI project because the company was able to complete the documents they required.
“Noong sila ay nag-apply sa amin for endorsement, hiningian namin ng requirements ‘yan. Talagang kami mismo pumunta sa planta ng DMCI, tiningnan namin, gumastos kami mula pondo ng barangay para tingnan talaga namin ang mga planta at nakita naman namin na maayos lahat. Nagpatawag din kami ng public consultation at public hearing, lahat ginawa namin para hingiin kung iindorso namin. Karamihan sa mga kabarangay naman namin pumayag na iindorso namin,” he said.
DMCI also went down to Bato-Bato and other barangays with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct information and dissemination campaigns regarding the project, he said.
Even anti-coal supporters went to these public hearings, he added.
“Kaya kami nagugulat sa sinasabi na hindi dumaan sa tamang proseso at walang public hearing,” Ferrer stated.
Ferrer said every time there will be anti-coal protests in Narra, the NPCM will also do their own to ensure the provision of balanced and fair information. (with a report from Celeste Anna Formoso).