Friday, March 27, 2009

Semirara Disaster

Map of Semirara Island, Sitio Bigo, Brgy. Alegria is south of the shiploader. The Unong Pit was the 1st operated in the 1980s until 1998, the 2nd pit (Panian) is still in operation. Himalian is the proposed 3rd pit.
Backdrop is the 15 MW coal-fired power plant. The black-bottom of the fisherman’s banca  indicates the coal residue in the waters.
Virtual reclamation caused by the refuse / tailings from the coal washing facility. Note the black color of the sea with coal-bits lining the shore.
Coal bits brought by the tide to the white coralline shore.
Seaweeds suffer from the coal residue.
Seaweeds is a major livelihood of the communities.
Even the fisherfolks suffer from the coal-residues with sore skins.
Dying mangroves cut, burned and bulldozed over.
Former mangrove areas that were bulldozed have been fenced-off and planted with coconut trees.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Statement on Coal Waste in Brgy.Alegria, Island Semirara

2ND  Floor  PedriƱa Nietes & Liu Chiang Law Offices
Business Park, San Jose de Buenavista 5700, Antique
Tel/Fax (036) 5405585 / (036) 3201980   email:
After years of muffled grievance – amidst the haze of coal dust – a community finally has enough.  A hundred or so residents of Sitio Bigo, Alegria in September 2008 signed a petition against coal mining pollution in their community. The petition, addressed to DENR Sec. Lito Atienza, bewails of the destruction of mangrove forest and the contamination of the beach coming from the coal washing plant of the Semirara Mining Co. (SMC). Their livelihoods of fishing and seaweed growing have been badly affected due to the contamination. It endangers their health.
Coal mining operations on Semirara Island over the years produce many unresolved issues on pollution, destruction of marine ecosystems, false promises and displacement of communities, and so on. Coal itself is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Reacting to the issue appearing in a major daily, SMC accuses complainants of maligning the company so that it would be pressured to give money to them. In effect, SMC tells us that it is falling prey from extortionist people of Alegria. The SMC really knows how to rub salt in the wound.
SMC went on to say that a typhoon destroyed the mangroves and that they have replanted them. Thanks but no thanks.  Mangroves have withstood nature’s fury long before SMC started it operations on the island. On the contrary, mangroves stand to protect coastal communities from strong waves, winds and floods. Of course, mangroves and other marine ecosystems stand no chance against man’s greed and blatant disregard of law.
Questions arise from this issue. What did the Multi-partite Monitoring Team (MMT) do to this problem? The destruction caused by the SMC is a palpable violation of environmental laws. Inaction on the part of MMT constitutes neglect. This culpability warrants legal sanctions, both for SMC and the MMT.
In an interview over a radio station, Mayor Reynante Lim of Caluya is too fast to SMC’s defense. He said the complaints are fabricated. Why his hundred or so constituents would do such a fabrication, he did not explain. Perhaps the many pictures that show mangroves dying on black silt were fakes. Or the signatures in the petition are forged? Or perhaps his true constituency lies on SMC?
Only Barangay Captain Ronald Lavega of Alegria has the courage to raise an accusing finger. In an era of double faced politicians, and on an island where M-14-totting “security men” roam around, his is a rare display of true leadership. We know that not only guns mute the weeping on this island. Cash clinks loud to silence all – from the local government units and concerned government agencies.
If the government fails to uphold its mandate, the people hope the church to step in. Pope Benedict himself issued an edict deploring environmental pollution as one of the new seven (7) deadly sins. This is not to mention greed.
It is puzzling the SMC could not spend on putting up a working washing plant or rehabilitating the ecosystems. It is benevolent enough to donate for the construction of churches or other church projects. Are the parishioners puzzled too over the silence of the “moral force”?
To whom then the beleaguered residents of Sitio Bigo turn? The Sangguniang Panlalawigan so far listened. We commend them for passing a resolution indorsing the petition, thru its sponsor Hon. Bobot Santillan.
We hope that, in a discordant political landscape, the SP Members remain steadfast over this concern. Environmental protection transcends political affiliation. This is about climate change, the conservation of our natural heritage, the future of our children, even unborn. This is about justice long past due.
We call the attention of Governor Perez and Congressman Javier. The issue provides opportunity for both of them to prove their consistency on environmental protection. Or at least to prove that their lowly constituents enjoy their protection.  Not of a pampered company.
Moreover, it is to prove that Antiquenos did not squander their struggle against the shameless waste-dumping proposal by the same polluters on the same island nine years ago.   Despite of their leaders.
Let truth and justice prevail on Semirara Island. Environmental laws are the most violated and neglected of all laws. We call on the rehabilitation of the destroyed marine ecosystems and the compensation of the affected communities and let the violators, including government officials guilty of misfeasance, answer the full force of the law.