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Interreligious gathering vows to fight coal plant

Updated: September 18, 2009 10:16 AM GMT
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Thousands of residents and environmental activists, religious leaders among them, have rallied against a 200-megawatt coal-fired power plant being built in the southern Philippines.

Children wave flags, some of which read ‘No to CFPP (coal-fired power plant),’ during the protest in Maasim. (Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Ferraris/LRCKsK-Davao)

The plant site sits across Sarangani Bay from the 140-hectare (345-acre) Kamanga Marine protected site and opponents fear it will cause massive pollution in the area. Father Romeo Catedral, social action director for Marbel diocese, told UCA News the protesters do not believe the plant owner´s assurance they will burn "clean carbon coal" from Indonesia. Some 5,000 people joined the "Holy Covenant Action" at the Maasim town plaza, Sarangani province on Sept. 14. Opponents fear that mercury, released when fossil fuels are burnt, will get into the rivers and the marine area, causing irreversible damage to nature and food security. Catholic Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel and an aleem (Islamic scholar) were among religious leaders who each gave five-minute talks. They quoted verses from the Bible and Qur´an, respectively, to explain their opposition to the coal plant. Participants expressed their opposition to the project by signing a "covenant between God and the people of Maasim." Filipino-led Conal Holdings Corporation is building the plant in a limestone-rich area in Father Catedral´s diocese at the southern tip of Mindanao, the main southern Philippine island. The project is a joint venture with Thailand´s Electricity Generating Public Company (EGCO). Conal says the venture hopes to provide cheaper electricity than is currently available, since coal costs less than other fossil fuels, and coal from Indonesia is even cheaper than local coal. Conal engineers insist mercury emission would be controlled, but construction has been halted for now, in the face of protests, to give time to reassure local people, according to the company´s website. The planned three-year initial construction phase would reportedly provide jobs for at least 1,300 workers.

Catholics and Muslims protest against construction of the coal-fired power plant (Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Ferraris/LRCKsK-Davao)

Despite the company´s claims, Erwin Quinones, a paralegal staff worker with the NGO Kasama sa Kalikasan (companion in nature), told reporters: "There is no such thing as clean coal." The rally was organized by Maasim People´s Coalition on Climate Change, which comprises members of Santa Cruz Catholic parish, the homegrown Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine independent Church), Church of Christ, Sovereign Grace Church International and Notre Dame Catholic High School of Maasim. "The Church is not against progress, cheaper power rates or new industry, but we oppose a plant that harms the environment for the future," Father Catedral told UCA News. Since coal contains mercury, iron, magnesium and lead, burning it pollutes the atmosphere, he argued. He echoed the bishop in noting that God entrusted the earth to human stewardship. The priest also pointed out that the coal plant will affect farmers even though it is situated in a rocky section of the town and will not destroy any agriculture land. "The plant will pump 750,000 liters of water an hour from nearby rivers that also irrigate surrounding farms," the social action director explained, speaking from Koronadal City, formerly called Marbel. "This will have harmful effects on nearby farms." Marbel diocese covers South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces, General Santo City and parts of Sultan Kudarat province. Church statistics say 77 percent of the 1.6 million residents are Catholics.

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