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Updated: August 23, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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Geothermal energy explorations have begun in a natural park in a central Philippines diocese despite the local bishop´s call to repeal a new law allowing the exploration.

Mount Kanlaon Geothermal Plant project "will lead to the death of Mount Kanlaon Park itself," Bishop Vicente Navarra of Bacolod said in his first pastoral letter.

The former bishop of Kabankalan, who was transferred to Bacolod diocese in July, urged the repeal of Mount Kanlaon Natural Park Act of 2001 promulgated Aug. 10.

The new law provides a 169-hectare buffer zone "for the exploration, development and utilization of geothermal energy resources" within the 25,000-hectare forest reserve and watershed.

Instead of benefiting the people, the project may cause "more havoc" to the park, said Bishop Navarra ´s Aug. 7 letter written in solidarity with the clergy and Religious of the diocese.

He explained that explorations in the area would require building roads and cause the clearing of about one to two hectares of forest for each of at least nine wellpads to be dug inside the buffer zone.

The bishop sees massive cutting down of century-old tropical trees, which will reduce watershed areas for 11 surrounding cities and municipalities and loss of animal and native plant varieties.

He also warned against pollution of rivers in the park, drying-up of water bodies and loss of trees in the nearby Mambucal Resort.

As bishop of Kabankalan, Bishop Navarra had opposed strip mining and cutting down of trees by mining companies.

Monsignor Eduardo Gumboc, chancellor-secretary of Bacolod diocese, 475 kilometers southeast of Manila, told UCA News Aug. 21 that some centuries-old tropical trees have already been cut as part of the explorations.

Some priests were at the site Aug. 17 to look into other damages, he said, adding that the clergy had a dialogue with the site explorers, but "sad to say, it was all ´technical blah.´"

The Philippine National Oil Company-Energy Development Company (PNOC-EDC), an affiliate of state-owned PNOC, has been authorized to conduct explorations at the park. The company knows all the technicalities but what is actually happening are flashfloods in the south of Negros, Monsignor Gumboc said.

He added that Negros Oriental province, where the diocese is located, has only 4.77 percent forest cover, far from the sustainable 20-40 percent.

Allowing cutting of trees at the national park would be harmful to the island and generations to come, Monsignor Gumboc warned.

"Can you replace a 100-year-old tree with a sapling?" he asked. Broken promises of mining corporations have left the province with "bald mountains," the diocesan official added.

The diocese is conducting a signature campaign for the repeal of the law and organizing a rally for Aug. 27 in the public plaza of Bacolod, he said.

In statement given to UCA News Aug. 22, PNOC-EDC said Negros Occidental and the Visayas region need new power sources to meet a growing demand for energy in the coming years.

It said appropriate environment authorities and park stakeholders reviewed geothermal development in the park before Congress passed the Aug. 10 act.

The PNOC-EDC said they "have heeded the concerns of environmental groups" brought out during the park review process that began as early as 1992.

The company said the Philippines is the world´s second largest producer of geothermal energy next to the United States.

The PNOC-EDC claimed it accounts for 60 percent of the country´s geothermal capacity operating four geothermal steamfields.

Bacolod comprises some 2,000 square kilometers of the central territory of Negros Occidental. Some 82 percent of its 1.2 million people are Catholics.


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