Josephine Pareja shows her opposition to the building of a coal plant in her community (Photo by Joe Torres)
Community leaders from 16 provinces today called on the government to abandon its plans to build more coal-fueled power plants. Around 100 community representatives attended the National Anti-Coal Summit, which opened in Manila today, to draft a "People's Declaration Against Coal and In Support of Clean Renewable Energy" that they will submit to the government. In their draft declaration, the community leaders said "coal is slowly killing our communities, and we will not allow ourselves to continue suffering its consequences in silence." One of them, village leader Josephine Pareja of Talisayan in Zamboanga City, said: "If the proposed plant pushes through in our town, it would be like living a death sentence." A private company is building a 100 megawatt coal-fueled power plant in Pareja's village. Scheduled to start operating in 2016, it is intended to serve Zamboanga City and nearby areas. "All the toxic emissions of the coal plant will eventually end up in our bodies," Pareja said. Anna Abad, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said communities like Talisayan in the southern Philippines are the ones who pay the price for the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. "Coal use endangers the well-being of families and the environment," she said, adding that in every place where coal is mined and used to generate power, communities suffer environmental damage and health problems. Abad said communities who will end up hosting the new plants will be "living under the shadow of life-threatening toxic emissions, destroyed livelihoods and greater water scarcity." Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s executive director, said solutions are available to reduce dependence on coal energy. "The government must prioritize and support green investments which will help put the country on a low-carbon growth pathway," he said. However, Naderev Sano of the government's Climate Change Commission told ucanews.com that it is not easy to push for environment-friendly energy policies. He pointed out that the various government agencies in charge of the environment and the energy sector lack inter-departmental coordination. "There are conflicting policies in government," he said, "and we have to address the overlaps.” As well as lack of coordination, there are assertions that some government officials are less than scrupulous in their dealings. Missionary priest Joey Evangelista said officials in the town of Malita in Mindanao even "fool people to sign waivers," agreeing to the building of a coal plant. "They promise people work, cheap electricity and livelihoods," he said, adding that some people are afraid to openly express their opposition to the building of the plant. To date, there are nine coal plants operating in the Philippines, with 12 more on the drawing board. The Philippines’ move towards coal-fueled power plants is largely driven by cost. Government taxation on geothermal and natural gas plants is heavy, while power from hydro-electric plants is expensive because of the cost of construction.