Zambales, ‘Gapo folk reject coal plant anew

SUBIC FREEPORT–“I think it’s time for you to go away.”
Thus, Olongapo City Administrator Ferdinand Magrata told officials of the Redondo Peninsula (RP) Energy, the proponent for the 600MW coal fired power plant in this Freeport, in a public consultation meeting called by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Monday, October 22.
For the umpteenth time, the proposal for the construction of a coal-fired power plant in this Freeport zone was resoundingly rejected by locators and residents of Subic and its surrounding communities.
As if to set the tone for the supposed consultation meeting, Freeport locators, many of whom were foreigners, immediately requested that the RP Energy presentation, which is set to be delivered during the first part of the program, be done in English. But, David Evangelista, spokesperson for RP Energy, did not agree. He argued that there are more Filipinos in the gathering than foreigners.
The consultation meeting then went on with people opposing the project taking turns in lambasting the DENR for not serving them invitation and for RP Energy for insisting to push through with the project despite repeated opposition aired by members of the community in several previous public consultations.
RP Energy officials never had the chance to do their presentation.
Local government representatives from Zambales province and the city of Olongapo questioned the validity of the public consultation claiming that not one of them received an invitation either from the DENR or RP Energy.
Zambales Vice Governor Ramon Lacbain; Rowena Rebusada, who represented Zambales Second District Representative MItos Magsaysay; and, Olongapo City Administrator Ferdinand Magrata took turns in lambasting the project proponent and reiterating their stand against the construction of the coal plant because of the environmental disaster that it poses to bring to the city of Olongapo and to the whole province.
Magrata cited numerous resolutions issued by the city council and the league of barangays from 2008 to 2012 opposing the construction of the coal fired power plant in Subic and urging the project proponent to consider looking for safer alternative source of energy.
“I think it is time for you to go away,” Magrata told RP Energy officials citing an earlier news report that quoted Raymond Cunningham, first vice president for business development of Aboitiz Power and member of the steering committee of RP Energy, saying that “if we are condemned by the overwhelming majority of the people in the area, we will not push through with the project. We will go away.”
“Because there is an overwhelming opposition in the presence of your company to operate even to construct this coal fired power plant,” Magrata told Cunningham, who was present at the meeting.
Representatives from the locators group, at the outset, asked to be clarified on the mechanics of the public consultation which they brand as “anomalous from the start” for not inviting the stakeholders.
Jen Velarmino, spokesperson of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation (SBF-CHEC), asked DENR officials who were invited to the public hearing, what is the program flow, and what time is allotted for the stakeholders.
“We have to define this so that you will know how to engage the stakeholders,” Velarmino told DENR and RP Energy officials.
Lacbain, for his part, said he would like to put it on record that he, as vice governor of Zambales and as a resident of Subic town, was not invited to the assembly. He added that even the board members of the Zambales provincial council were not invited to the forum.
“We came to know of this activity only through Facebook,” he complained.
Lacbain also asked if the DENR will still issue an ECC to the project proponent despite the strong opposition from the stakeholders.
“Assuming that all of us will raise our opposition to the project, what will be the action of DENR? Will you still issue the ECC despite our opposition? You issued an ECC to RP Energy for the first 300mw (coal fired power plant) despite very strong objections from the people of this area.” Lacbain asked to be clarified. To which, DENR representative Mavic Yao replied that she cannot categorically answer the question.
“If not, what is the purpose of this public hearing? What is this? Is this only for show?” Lacbain asked.
Yao said there will be continuing consultations with the stakeholders even after the scheduled public consultation.
“Why are we talking about additional 300MW, while the first 300MW is already questionable to us?” Lacbain, who is the acting governor as Governor Hermogenes Ebdane is out of the country, asked.
“I don’t remember any organization or individual which or who endorsed this project, which is a prerequisite to the issuance of an ECC,” Lacbain pointed out.
Rowena Quejada, chief of staff of Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay, said the people of Olongapo City and Zambales are the ones who will be directly and adversely affected by the coal plant.
“Can’t you understand that we are the ones who will be affected by this? Our children and our children’s children are the ones who will suffer from this,” Quejada directed her question to RP Energy officials. “You are only after your profit, but we are concerned about our own lives,” she added.
The assembly was later asked to decide on whether or not to proceed with the consultation. On a vote of 98 against 53, the body decided to stop the hearing and call for another consultation meeting “where everyone will be invited.”

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