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Fr. Puno, protesters question SP members on hastily approved SMC projects

Fr. Warren Puno (right, standing at podium) questions the members of the Sangguniang Panglalawigan of Quezon headed by vice governor and presiding officer Samuel Nantes during their regular session. (JOHN BELLO)


by John A. Bello

LUCENA CITY – Holding anti-coal placards inside the regular session of the Sangguniang Panglalawigan (SP), protesters on Monday confronted its members and asked them to answer why they hastily passed a resolution in Dec. approving several development projects of San Miguel Corp. including the establishment of another coal-fired power plant along with allegations that they have received P1 million to P2 million ‘grease money’ from the company.

Fr. Warren Puno, parish priest of Dolores and Ministry of Ecology director at the Diocese of Lucena, asked series of questions to SP members led by vice governor and presiding officer Samuel Nantes on the issues surrounding the SMC projects to be located in Pagbilao and Sariaya especially the construction of another coal-fired power plant.

“Have there been free and proper public consultations made in Pagbilao and Sariaya where these SMC projects are to be established? Have you done proper studies and research on each of these projects that would have long-term repercussions to the communities to be affected? What could have been the reason on your speedy decision to allow these projects last December? Is it true according to informations I received that P1 million to P2 million were given to SP members in exchange for the approval of these projects?” asked Puno reading a paper in Filipino when he was allowed to speak by Nantes amid a motley crowd of protesters holding placards saying ‘No to coal’, ‘Clean coal is a dirty lie’, ‘Clean energy now’ and ‘Quit coal’ alongside other visitors and observers in the gallery of the session hall on Monday.

The church, Fr. Puno pointed out, is not opposed to any development projects as long as they are not destructive to the health and environment of the residents in Quezon.

Isaias Ubana, SP majority floor leader, took the cudgel for his fellow members in answering the series of questions of Fr. Puno.

He categorically denied that SP members have received P1 million to P2 million or any amount from SMC and all they have done, he said, in passing the SP resolution approving SMC projects is aboveboard, transparent and efficient.

“We take it personally these baseless informations that we have received P1 million or P2 million from SMC and we have invited here someone from the company to tell anything,” Ubana said and called a certain Albert Reyes who spoke briefly, introduced himself and waited for any question from any SP member and when nobody did he left quietly and disappeared from the session hall.

Another SP member, Elizabeth Sio, stood up and also denied she received a single centavo from SMC.

Ubana said the SP is only a legislative and not a regulatory body which would dig into details about the projects as it is the responsibility of the local government units affected to conduct public consultation and hearing and the project proponent to secure the necessary environmental permits and clearances from DENR and other government agencies.

He disclosed that the SP members were invited to a technical presentation by SMC in Makati city on Dec. 14 and 3 days later, on Dec. 17 they passed the resolution for the approval of the SMC projects in Sariaya and Pagbilao.

Fr. Warren asked again to speak and expressed worries that the SP acted rather speedily in the midst of Christmas activities and celebrations and not waited until after they have properly consulted the affected communities in Sariaya and Pagbilao.

He reiterated that the church stand is clear and that it is not against progress or development so long as it does not harm the health and environment of the citizens in the areas.

Jay Lim, constituency building program of the environment group Tanggol Kalikasan who was among the protesters during the proceeding of the SP session posted the following in his Facebook account:

“Susmiyo! Matapos ang sesyon ng Sangguniang Panlalawigan hinggil sa tila “napakabilis” na pagpapasa ng resolusyong nagpapatibay sa pagsuporta sa pagpapatupad ng mga proyekto ng SMC sa bayan ng Pagbilao at Sariaya ay kinausap natin ang isa sa mga lider ng mamamayang kasama sa mobilisasyon. Mula sa malalim na paghugot ng hininga...”Hugas kamay laang naman ang mga bokal at si vice gov . . . nakakapanghinayang, sana ay pagkakataon na nilang manindigan at maiparamdam ang tunay nilang malasakit sa mamamayan at kalikasan pero hindi nila nagawa....sayang!”

Quezon province has already 2 huge coal-fired power plants in Mauban and Pagbilao - both have recently expanded their power generation capacity - and still another coal fired plant facility is being built in Atimonan.

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