Is there a need for EDC to encroach further in MKNP?
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The pronouncement of the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corporation to temporarily shut down its geothermal operations at the buffer zone of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Occidental had confirmed earlier speculations that it is not doing well in sourcing out geothermal energy from the area. Reportedly, the EDC is only generating about six megawatt of geothermal energy, which is far below from its earlier target of generating about 40 megawatt. The EDC (formerly the Philippine National Oil Corporation-Energy Development Corporation) lobbied for the exclusion of 169 hectares from the original boundary of the MKNP to become a buffer zone for its geothermal development. In numerous public consultations several years back, the EDC had justified its encroachment to the protected area as the only way to generate 40 megawatt of geothermal energy.
It is quite astounding that after investing a huge amount of money and inflicting environmental destruction and damages to the
natural conditions of the area where it currently operates, the EDC will conduct technical evaluation as to the viability of its operations at the buffer zone of MKNP. The EDC forged technical agreements with experts from the United States and New Zealand to conduct the evaluation in the next nine months. This development creates doubts as to the purpose and intent of this technical evaluation since it should have been carried out before. Is this another bold step of the EDC in justifying its further encroachment to the MKNP?
I can’t help but to make my own assumption because of the fact that the original proposal of the then PNOC-EDC was to slice about 1,850 hectares from the original boundary of MKNP. However, the proposal was later on reduced to 1,437 hectares because portions of the proposed area is within the strict protection zone, as indicated in the initial protected area plan of MKNP, which was also approved by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1005 in 1998. During the legislative processes for the final declaration of Mount Kanla-on as a protected area through congressional approval, the EDC was forced to reduce its proposed area to 169 hectares. It was a sort of a compromise deal since EDC was claiming that out of the proposed area only about 100 hectares will be used actually for geothermal development. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the House of Representatives then required the EDC to conduct delineation survey for the area it actually needs so that the approval of the proposed bill for MKNP will clearly indicate the geothermal development site.
While geothermal is a clean energy, its development usually incurs landscape alteration and habitat destruction. The EDC has already cleared about 29 hectares of natural forest at the buffer zone of MKNP. The cleared forest was part of the natural habitat of various species of flora and fauna some of which are already declared as threatened species. The EDC has been required to conduct a detailed study on the floral and faunal composition of the area subject of its operations. The findings of the study had confirmed the presence of threatened endemic species, including the discovery of the equally threatened Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.
This is not the first time that this geothermal project in Mount Kanla-on stirred speculations. Amidst protest actions and vehement objections from environmental groups on the approval of RA 9154 in 2001, local newspapers and radio stations in Bacolod City bannered a story on September 6, 2001 that the PNOC-EDC will no longer enter MKNP for geothermal energy development, and will instead concentrate its operations outside the protected area. Then PNOC-EDC chairperson Sergio Apostol made such pronouncement.
The Expansion of energy development at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park necessitates the enactment of another law by the Congress, as provided in Republic Act 9154. This provision of the MKNP Act is patterned after the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or RA 7586, which similarly prohibits energy development in a protected area without congressional approval. If the EDC shall be allowed to encroach further in MKNP it would again result to additional forest clearing, biodiversity and habitat loss, and landscape alteration since the upper portions where it operates now are still heavily forested. However, I am not certain when EDC expands its current operations require a new Environmental Impact Assessment because its Environmental Clearance Certificate is already covering the entire area it proposed earlier.
The issue of geothermal development in Mount Kanla-on has been dragging for almost two decades now. Several groups are still opposing it primarily due to forest destruction and other related concerns associated with geothermal energy development. There is still a pending case in court questioning the legality of RA 9154. I am not sure if this pending court case would affect the filing of another bill for the expansion of the EDC operations in Mount Kanla-on.
It is quite unfortunate that Mount Kanla-on is the subject of this controversy. Geothermal is a clean energy but its development is at the expense of our biological diversity. It should be noted that Mount Kanla-on is one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas, an important endemic bird area, and one of the 18 centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. It is also included in the Alliance for Zero Extinction due to a good number of endemic threatened species present in the protected area that are already in the brink of extinction in the wild. In fact numerous endemic species are also found in the area where the EDC is now operating. The protection of the remaining forests of MKNP is of paramount importance to the survival of the different endemic species and maintenance of the watershed and other ecological services.
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