Crossposted from Mindfully Greenie

The first National Anti-Coal Summit brought together citizens who have led campaigns against or are threatened by the possible installation of polluting coal power plants in their localities. The participants were environmentalists, lawyers, church and civil society representatives from Bataan, Batangas, Cebu, Davao, Davao Del Sur, General Santos, Isabela, Misamis Oriental, Negros, Iloilo, Palawan, Sarangani, Subic, Zambales and Zamboanga.

Despite the enactment of the Renewable Energy Law and notwithstanding the fact that the strong legal framework for environmental protection and sustainable development has overridden the coal development policy of the martial law era, the Department of Energy (DOE) is still heavily promoting coal power plants. DOE pretends that our country is not heavily affected by climate change. Fossil fuels like coal emit the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Coal also contains hazardous substances that are harmful to the body and the environment such as mercury, lead, arsenic and radioactive materials.

Unlike mining, which has a statutory basis, there is no law or public policy supporting coal operation or coal mining after the Constitution was adopted in 1987. DOE is even mandated by its charter to adopt technology which does not sacrifice ecological concerns.  Isn’t it a grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Executive branch to continue with its coal obsession, despite clear evidence of its odious health and environmental impacts?

The coal prioritization by DOE is not only misplaced; it is difficult to understand. It is not as if there are no alternatives as we have the Renewable Energy Law, the implementation of which, such as the fixing of the feed-in-tariff, was quite slow.

Von Hernandez, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia voiced his concerns, thus: “Solutions are available to reduce our dependence on polluting, dirty and deadly coal energy.  The government must prioritize and support green investments, which will help put the country on a low-carbon growth pathway, instead of pursuing investments, which are harmful to society, peace and order, and the environment. This way, further human and societal damage, as well as ecological degradation and devastating climate change impacts, can be avoided.”

The national summit led to the formation of the Anti-COALition network, ending with a collective demand for the Aquino government “to abandon coal energy expansion and instead ensure the country’s sustainable development with a future powered by clean, peaceful, renewable energy”.

The manifesto to stop coal consumption can be signed online.

A dear friend, who has successfully led a campaign to stop coal plant in her area, is saddened that “President Noy has turned a deaf ear against the people’s call for renewable energy.”

Cebuanos should be equally concerned, as there is a plan by DOE to put up another coal power plant in Toledo City, which is part of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS).

To enhance stakeholder awareness on the devastating impacts of coal, the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Inc. (FARDEC), Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), Fisherfolk Development Center (FIDEC), Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) and the University of San Carlos Chemical Engineering Society recently organized a forum. We thank them and our speakers, which included one of the country’s leading toxicologists, Dr. Romeo Quijano and Dr. Lem Aragones, the marine mammal scientist who has extensively studied the ecology and the species of whales and dolphins in TSPS, a known migratory pathway of wildlife. The government agencies were invited but they were sadly, absent.

Coal, like mining, is never sustainable.  Sooner or later, we will have to decide what we want Cebu to be: the coal capital of or a model of sustainable living in the Philippines.

The choice is ultimately ours to make.

Gloria Ramos is an environment lawyer. You can follow her column, Mindfully Greenie at the Cebu Daily News.