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Progress Against Preservation

John Carlos Plata & Merell Lystra Recta

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”

The Energy Development Corporation (EDC) is planning to expand its reach within Mt. Talinis for their Southern Negros Geothermal Project. In this expansion, they plan to add 60 megawatts (MW) in their steam field capacity that would require a vast 5,163 hectares of land within the mountain.

In response, concerned environmental groups such as Save Mt. Talinis and 350 Pilipinas protested for the environment’s health, hoping to prevent the feared destruction of the area. They seek to deny EDC from being granted of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The magnificent Cuernos de Negros of Negros Oriental is on the verge of a battle between the development of a geothermal power plant, and the preservation of the remaining one percent natural forest in the region.

The last frontier
“Secretary Gina Lopez, defend Cuernos de Negros! No ECC to EDC’s [5,163-hectare] development block at Cuernos De Negros!” is the very first line one will see in the 350 Pilipinas’ petition webpage.

Trees live by its roots. Change the roots, and you change the tree. Change the trees, and you change the forest. Mt. Talinis, a home to critically endemic species of the region, is also the home of hundreds of families nearby and serves as the region’s water source.

A submitted statement from the Environmental Performance Report and Management Plan recognized EDC’s developmental block within the key biodiversity area, a nationally identified site of global significance addressed to biodiversity conservation. Almost about 3,000 hectares surrounding the peak is classified as a close natural forest, and about 1,800 hectares is classified as a secondary natural forest, making it one of the top conservation priority areas.

Even though EDC committed to replace each affected tree with 100 indigenous seedlings through the “Binhi” greening legacy, it still wouldn’t be able to replace the reality of losing our remaining natural forest. It should be noted that the ecological services rendered by a newly grown tree is far different from a grown one, which may even lead to the possible demise of the biodiversity once rooted in the area. DENR Secretary Gina Lopez once mentioned these words in her campaign against mining: “Biodiversity holds pre-eminent value. Reforestation does not replicate an ecological system. No amount of planting trees will bring biodiversity back.”

What alarms most environmental activists against EDC’s expansion program is the enormous 27 billion investment having no full disclosure of the program’s parameters. This large amount of funding gives skepticism to the activists as to why this budget was agreed upon, despite not having enough details for the public to know.

The unheard perspective
Though frowned upon by environmental groups, the expansion program of EDC answers the demands of the region’s growing economy. With an extended capacity, more facilities and households can be powered. Moreover, on the company’s historical record for the past 33 years, it has been in the forefront of environmental protection programs, and has reforested around 3.2 million trees in Negros Oriental alone, making it a point to replace every cut tree with new ones.

The previous expansion, which led to the cutting of more than 576 trees in the Nasuji area, caused an uproar because of EDC’s decision not to inform the public and local government units. Still, EDC received a permit from the DENR allowing such undertakings. This might have appalled most activists, but the activity was legal.

Also, this year’s proposed expansion program aims to achieve a zero disposal system in the operations through the re-injection technology of the well construction. This allows continuous recharging of the geothermal reservoir, thus eliminating excess brine (solution of salt and water) components.  The re-injection technology is an environment-enhancing technique to inject back the fluid separated from the steam back into the ground to power again the plant.

Vicente Omandman, the senior manager for the EDC Negros Island Geothermal Business Unit, emphasized that the company invests not only in establishment but also in ensuring the trees’ survival.

The call for a stand
Which of the two will you support? Are you, like the organizers of 350 Pilipinas, against the expansion program which will put Mt. Talinis’ biodiversity into danger? Or do you sympathize with the company’s intention of simply responding to our rising demands, but in turn will also pay a contribution to the environment lost by planting seedlings?

It is your time to make a decision. You can’t just be ignorant, sitting on a soft cushioned chair while sipping your coffee, and leaving your environment’s state and the future it holds at stake. You can’t just read this feature story without deciding which side you are on. This concerns the Horns of Negros, the renowned Mt. Talinis, the mountain that most of the cities in the province depend on.

The whole point is not to ruin EDC’s reputation nor disregard the efforts of the activists. The point lies on what your stance is, so that once the effects of whatever action has taken place, you know where you stand.

Now tell us.  Is the  expansion program proposed by EDC a threat, or a treat?

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