Residents urge mayor to block coal plant in Palawan town

PALAWAN, Philippines – Residents of Narra, Palawan are pinning their hopes on their newly-elected mayor to help them block the construction of the 15-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the municipality.

Concerned residents, including students, teachers, and business owners held a protest on Tuesday, September 24, within the government center's premises to ask Narra Mayor Gerandy Danao not to issue building and operational permits to the proponent DMCI Power Corporation.

After years of battling opposition from the civil society, the said company has secured an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources last July 2019 and could start the construction anytime soon once it gets the said permits from the municipal mayor.

"It's clear that the world knows it's (coal) bad for the people and the environment. Other countries have already rejected it. So why we're accommodating it? Are we that stupid?" Merly Lagan, a feisty 70-year-old businesswoman, told the media.

"Here in the Philippines, there are a lot of places that already experienced the negative effects of coal plants. Why would we try it out for ourselves? Learning from their experiences, we've seen how destructive and disastrous it can be for us. Let's not experiment," she added.

The practice of burning fossil fuels, especially by coal-fired power facilities, is one of the culprits driving the climate crisis, which results in erratic weather patterns, sea level rise, and deadly typhoons, among other climate-related hazards that affect the poorest of the poor in developing countries like the Philippines.

Since 2012, DMCI Power Corporation has been pushing for the construction of a coal-fired power plant as part of its 25-MW power supply agreement signed with the Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco), which was then grappling with a supply problem.

The power plant was originally planned to be built in Barangay Panacan, Narra, but residents and conservationists banded together to protect the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo inhabiting in the area.

It was also rejected in its second proposed site in Aborlan town, after it was fiercely opposed by students and teachers from the Western Philippines University (WPU) for fear of its human and environmental costs.

The power firm identified its third proposed site in Barangay San Isidro. It eventually got endorsements of the barangay and municipal councils, which paved the way for the issuance of a Strategic for Environmental Plan for Palawan clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

NO TO COAL. Narra residents oppose the construction of the coal-fired power plant. Photo by Keith Anthony S. Fabro/Rappler

NO TO COAL. Narra residents oppose the construction of the coal-fired power plant. Photo by Keith Anthony S.

Fabro/Rappler

Despite living in Panacan, the barangay that already ditched the plan, Danao admitted he lacks scientific knowledge on how the project could harm the environment and people.

"I am not here to say 'yes' or 'no' to coal. What I'm trying to say is if it's advantageous for us, then I'll give it a go signal. But, if not, we'll stop it," Danao told the protesters in a dialogue.

Danao added he is willing to sit down with local environmental scientists to educate himself and finally make a stand on the issue. He even heeded the anti-coal's call to conduct again a public hearing with more local stakeholders from different sectors in attendance.

"We will not just allow its construction. We're all shocked of the news that it will soon be built here. Let's subject it again to a public hearing. That's the right thing to do," he said.

The mayor also welcomed the residents' suggestions to allow the development of renewable energy sources like solar and hydro in town as eco-friendly alternatives to coal. "If there are other better alternatives, why not? Don't utilize coal."

Danao said he has yet to receive a building application permit from the proponent or even a copy of the ECC. He, however, said he could not turn down the company's building permit application if he finds it complete with supporting documents.

"If they're going to apply for a building permit and they completed all the requirements, we can't do something about it. That's a building permit. But when it comes to its operation, we have to be wary if it will be beneficial to us or only to the company," he added.

Joel Pelayo, the convener of the No to Coal Movement in Narra, said they are scheduled to meet with Danao again on October 2 to present to him the implications of allowing the coal plant, and discuss with him the planned public consultation. 

"This is a welcome development for us because we personally heard from him his stand that he cannot decide for now because he is not fully aware of the cons it entails," he told Rappler. "We are positive that he will side with us after that meeting."

Aside from the protest in Narra, similar activities were simultaneously held at WPU's Aborlan and Puerto Princesa campuses, in front of the Paleco office, and all over the country in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike and the National Day of Action Against Coal. – Rappler.com