Braganza to Greenpeace: Dirty coal plant's land in Pulupandan not exempt from agrarian reform

Press release - July 5, 2001
Pulupandan farmers may not only find themselves bidding good riddance to the controversial coal plant project of the Central Negros Power Corporation (CNPC). They may also have their own lands to till in the near future.

Pulupandan farmers may not only find themselves bidding good riddance to the controversial coal plant project of the Central Negros Power Corporation (CNPC). They may also have their own lands to till in the near future.

This was intimated by DAR Secretary Hernani Braganza to Greenpeace in a meeting held at his office last July 4. "There appears to be serious problems in the application for land conversion lodged with DAR concerning the Pulupandan land," Braganza said in the meet. "The area in question covers 23 hectares. Two companies with the same incorporators are said to be owners of this land, which is evidently still agriculturally viable. If this is true, then agrarian reform should be the agenda and not land conversion," added the DAR Secretary. Greenpeace, an environmental organization involved in the fight against the dirty coal project, responded positively to Braganza's statement.

"Secretary Braganza's response to the issue was forthright. The trail of CNPC's attempts to skirt regulations is obvious based on the setbacks it suffered at DENR and DTI this year. We welcome the DAR Secretary's initiative to investigate the matter," said Greenpeace Campaigner Red Constantino. DAR is the latest agency to investigate the dealings of CNPC. This is not surprising says Greenpeace because "Irregular transactions have become the twin of CNPC's coal plant since it is so environmentally and socially unacceptable to the communities." Pulupandan's waters are currently contaminated with heavy metals like cadmium and lead owing to the 3.5megawatt power plant of Asian Alcohol Distillery, which operated on pure coal in the municipality for over a decade.

According to Negros community oppositors, records from the Securities and Exchange Commission list the mayor of Pulupandan, Antonio Suatengco, along with his brother and his brother's wife, as incorporators of the two corporations that own the 23-ha. land. The two corporations in question are Rainbow Bright Agricultural Corporation, which holds 9-has., and Newfoundland Agricultural Company, which owns the remaining 14-has.

The applicant for land conversion, the Pulupandan Ecozone Corporation (PEC), also carries the Suatengcos as incorporators. PEC previously filed an application with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) for the creation of an economic zone in Pulupandan concurrent with an application for CNPC's coal plant. The land conversion application of PEC with DAR covers the same 23-ha. land that CNPC identified as its site based on DENR records. The power purchase agreement signed by CNPC and a local electric cooperative also required the establishment of a special economic zone at the coal plant's site. Community oppositors filed with DAR last November 7, 2000 a motion seeking to dismiss PEC's application for land conversion.

"The information presented warrants an immediate response. We are going to review this matter on top of the recent recall order of DENR concerning CNPC's environment permit," said Braganza. The DAR secretary was referring to the order by DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez last May recalling the 'midnight' Environmental Compliance Certificate covertly granted by ex-Secretary Antonio Cerilles. Also present during the July 4 meeting was Rookie Garcia, DAR Assistant Secretary for Policy Planning and Legal Affairs, former labor attaché Jesus Varela and Businessworld columnist Dean de la Paz.

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