CRIMINAL?

HEALTH is wealth, but for some companies, this might not hold true since for them, money, more than health, defines their wealth.

Companies are expected to be socially responsible to their stakeholders, environment and the society as a whole.

Commonly known as corporate social responsibility or CSR, the practice is a vital part in ensuring the success of a company.

It encompasses a wide variety of ways – from donating a portion of company’s proceeds to charity to volunteerism to practicing ethical labor practices.

But in the light of the recent events, some companies think that hundreds of million-peso public relations efforts could erase their irresponsible business practices.

 

Ash Spill

For some time now, residents of Brgy. Lamao, Limay, Bataan have been complaining of respiratory diseases and boils caused by an alleged ash spill around a power facility in the province that dusted their villages. 

Upon hearing the reports, the regional office of the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) was quick to respond by first, slapping SMC Consolidated Power Corp. (SMCCPC) last December 28 with notices of violation and eventually told the company last January 6 to stop any activity inside its coal-fired power plant.

The nearby Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) of Petron Corporation was also directed to stop from dumping newly-generated bottom ash from its coal-fired power plant to the ash pond of a 600-MW coal-fired power plant being built by the SMCCPC.

As expected, the two subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) have denied the allegations based on mere technicalities and thus, were found to be issuing contradicting statements.

 

Contradictions

Petron has denied responsibility over the incident by stating that the ash pond of 150-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant operating inside the Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) is secure and about a kilometer away from the closest waterway.

Surprisingly though, Petron refining division Vice President Freddie Yumang has recognized the possibility that the ash might come from their site. 

“It's possible that the ash came from here. We will water the ash more,” he said.

Further, San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang has said the spill did not come from its plant but from a nearby facility formerly owned by state-run National Power Corp. (NAPOCOR).

However, NAPOCOR said that the thermal power plant has not been running since 2000 and could not be the source of the leak.

"The Bataan thermal power plant is not with NPC anymore. It has not been operational for more than 15 years; hence, could not have been the cause of any recent ash spewing in the area. Unit no.2 was decomissioned in February 1999 and Unit no.1 was decommissioned in 2000. The decomissioned BTPP plant was turned over to PSALM for privatization by virtue of EPIRA," it said.

 

Environmental Concerns

Not few environmental groups have called on the government for the urgent cessation of the operations and construction of the existing coal-fired power plants in Limay, Bataan, citing reported environmental and health cases.

One of them, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) took note of media reports showing residents of Barangay Lamao in Limay town ticking off a litany of problems due to waste, including ash fall, from the nearby power plant.

One of the residents, Nelgie Santos, complained: “"Nagpasingaw po sila ng napakabahong amoy. Malalangahap po namin yun. Nakakatuyo po ng lalamunan [They released something with a terrible stink, which we inhaled; it dries the throat]."

Another resident, Boy Pascual who is also president of the Limay Concerned Citizens, weighed in: "Are illnesses being recorded. Many, sir. Mainly respiratory ailments are being monitored," he said, speaking in Filipino.

“Pag umaandar po yan parang masakit ang ulo mo parang hirap na hirap kang umano iyung lalamunan mo para kang dadahak,” another resident Alvin Purak complained.

Angelyn Bolitres, of Sitio Pexsite in the said barangay has also said that her father died last September due to a lung problem.

As if it were not enough, the residents are also claiming that ash from the plants are causing pollution, getting into food and water supplies and also fouling the sea.

The group also said that residents have been raising their complaints to the government agencies concerned for the past four years since they have experienced, not just drastic changes in the environment, but also deteriorating health conditions manifested by different respiratory and skin diseases.

Residents also said that the highest percentage of mortality rate has been recorded in Limay in the last four years.  

 

Tales of lime powder, coal ash and caterpillar

There is also a contention about what cause the skin rashes of the residents.

In what seems to be a desperate and laughable move by Petron, it said that skin rashes allegedly being caused by the lime powder being blown in the direction of their community were in fact, scabies (an infectious disease caused by tick bites) and itch caused by exposure to caterpillars.

But Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) has disputed this, saying that it is not lime powder but coal ash which contains a host of toxic substances, including arsenic, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals that is causing the diseases. 

Coal ash pollution can also cause cancer and other serious health impacts to people’s circulatory, respiratory, nervous and other organ systems.

 

Lack of Permits

It was also discovered that the two plants did not have adequate facilities to contain the more than 250 tons of waste ash they produce daily.

Petron official Yumang said the company doesn't have a permanent ash pond for their waste because the local government of Limay has denied them the necessary permits to build it.

With this, Kalikasan PNE noted that the coal facility should not have been permitted to run if it was non-compliant with regulations.

Even though they have the required permits from the DENR, the local government has denied them permits to build it. 

“It’s really a very difficult situation but we are really hoping na bigyan na kami ng permiso na gawin yung talagang gawin yung dumpsite doon na ash pond para magkaroon na kami ng lugar don, yung tamang lugar, yung permanent na lugar na long term, taon ang bibilangin mo bago mo mapuno yun para nga mawala na yung ganitong sitwasyon,” Yumang said.

“We expect SMC will vigorously challenge the cease and desist order against its power plant, hiding behind the electricity needs of the public. 

The national government must ensure the adequate, clean energy supply to consumers amid the suspension. SMC should be penalized for any power shortage that may happen because of the suspension,” said Dulce.

 

Actions

With the great scope of damage caused by these coal-fired power plants, residents should now be seeking legal remedy, especially those who have lost someone in their families.

As what Kalikasan PNE has also said, government should compel SMC to shoulder the health and environment costs caused by its pollution.

Philippine government should not only contain the bully San Miguel Corporation, it should also lend a hand in helping families to go to courts and file charges with regards to the environmental and health issues that the company has caused.

Someone has to pay for the damages caused by the ash spill. 

And if a crime has been committed then somebody should be held responsible. 

And since Ang is the top honcho of SMC, then he must be hailed to court- especially if reports are true that there were people that have already died as result of ash pollution caused by the two subsidiaries of SMC. 

Charges should be slapped against him so that he could land behind bars the soonest time possible.

 

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