After months of relentless campaigning and two petitions on Change.org calling to stop the planned construction of the coal fired power plant in Narra, Palawan, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) did not endorse the unconditional clearance for the plant.
On Friday the PCSD ruled to relocate the coal plant from its proposed site in the coastal barangay of Panacan where hundreds of fisherfolks reside. The proposed site is also right across the Rasa Island Sanctuary – home to the endangered Philippine cockatoo or the katala. The PCSD also required the coal plant to get endorsements from the municipal and provincial councils.
Katala Foundation’s Indira Widmann said the entire community is relieved to have averted the project in their vicinity. “It is not just about the Philippine cockatoo. It boils down to the people of Narra, Palawan whose lives will be in danger. Our petition on Change.org provided a venue for Filipinos all over the country to realize that the people of Narra are faced with a very critical issue. It also encouraged the people to speak up and voice out their concerns against the coal plant. This strengthened the community’s stand because in great numbers we were able to shift the decision to our favor. Every signature helped secure the future of the Philippine cockatoos from this threat, as well as the entire community of Panacan,” Widmann said.
Widmann added that the overwhelming support they received on both petitions on Change.org made the people of Narra more determined and unafraid to oppose the coal plant. She said many residents religiously attended every PCSD meeting and made sure that the Council will not endorse the plant. Katala Foundation’s petition on Change.org gathered more than 4,000 signatures.
The PCSD’s ruling to relocate the coal plant also brings Panacan resident and fisherman Rolando Esperancilla’s petition to victory. His petition, signed by more than 2,400 people, called on the Narra Municipal Council and Palawan Provincial Council not to endorse the coal plant project. His petition had a partial victory last June when the Narra Municipal Council ruled to reject the coal plant. Esperancilla lives barely 300 meters away from the proposed site of the coal plant.
“Hindi ko lubos maisip na marami palang tumututol sa coal plant. Kung wala ang suporta ng mga taong pumirma ng aming petisyon sa Change.org, hindi naming makakayanang ituloy-tuloy ang aming protesta at maipanalo ito. Maraming salamat sa lahat ng mga pumirma. Pinalakas ninyo ang aming loob. Dahil sa inyo, nakarating po ang aming mga hinaing sa mga matataas na opisyal. Masayang masaya kami pero hindi pa tapos ang laban. Kailangan nating siguruhin na malayong malayo na sa Panacan ang relokasyon ng coal plant. Salamat din sa suporta sa amin ng Sangguniang Bayan ng Narra.” Esperancilla said.
Rasa Island in southern Palawan is the last stronghold for the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo, but maybe its days are counted!
DMCI Power Corporation is planning to build a 15 MW coal-fired power plant just opposite of Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary, in Barangay Panacan, Narra Municipality, despite massive protests from affected communities, local and international environmental groups, and the fact that the municipal government does not endorse the proposal. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development has granted clearance for the project, ignoring its own technical staff’s recommendations, foremost the relocation to a less vulnerable site.
Rasa Island is a protected area of outstanding conservation importance due to the presence of a high number of globally threatened wildlife, among these three species of marine turtles, four bird species and the rare Dugong. Since 1998, Katala Foundation (KFI), implements a comprehensive conservation project on the island and adjacent mainland. The project started with only 23 cockatoos left at that time. Presently, the number of individuals increased to more than 250 on Rasa, due to the intense conservation efforts. This represents at least one quarter of the world population of this species, since only circa 1,000 of this extremely rare parrot survive in the wild.
It is feared that the coal plant would result in cockatoo casualties due to collisions and electrocution at the feeder power lines. Even more seriously, the power plant would block the flight path of the birds’ foraging area from the mainland to the island, which in turn would result in a reduction of the carrying capacity of Rasa Island for this species, since parent birds could not any more provide their young with sufficient food.
Numerous other concerns have been raised over the project. Local residents close-by the proposed project site dread health risks which would arise as an effect of burning coal. The village predominantly generates income from fishing, and thermal pollution from the cooling water outfall would lead to numerous negative effects in the marine ecosystem, notably coral bleaching and likely would result in reduced fish catch. Impurities in coal include heavy metals, like mercury which is known to accumulate in marine food chains and can lead to severe health problems, including to immune, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems. The coal-fired power plant would disproportionally contribute to emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore would contradict efforts within the province to become more climate-friendly. Finally, the economic feasibility of the project has been questioned and initial calculations indicate that a mix of diesel-fired and hydro-plants in the Palawan setting would result in cheaper consumer prices for electricity than coal.