With the Batangas CIty communities filing complaints on health impacts attributed to the operation of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the city, last January 23, the burden of explanation is now focused at the Department of Energy (DOE) why LNG has become a fuel of choice replacing the dirty harmful coal. The evidence presented by Batangas residents is damning. Citing “abnormally high levels of respiratory infections and cardiovascular diseases” in barangays Dela Paz proper, Ilijan, Malitam, Sta. Rita Karsada, Tabangao Ambulong, and Tabangao Aplaya in Batangas City, the affected communities and civil society organizations have filed petitions before different government offices including the local government unit of said city. The barangays mentioned host five operating liquified natural power plants, labeled by climate groups as fossil gas plants with a combined 3.45 GW LNG capacity.
The petition cites Batangas City Health Office data from 2017 to 2021 showing “alarming” rates of morbidity within the vicinity of the fossil gas power plants, with respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular diseases as the leading causes, particularly in Brgys. Dela Paz Proper, Ilijan, Malitam, Sta. Rita Karsada, Tabangao Ambulong, and Tabangao Aplaya. According to the petition, the same trend is seen in Brgy. Sta. Rita Aplaya in data for March to October 2022. Meanwhile, in Brgy. Sta. Rita Karsada where the First Gen fossil gas power plant is located, the leading cause of children’s morbidity is respiratory infections, and for adults and infants, it is pneumonia. If these plants are now evidence by Batangas residents of its morbid nature, then this should be stopped and not allowed to expand to other provinces.
Multiple liquified natural gas (LNG) projects are currently in the pipeline on the island of Mindanao in line with current plans of energy developers and the Philippine government to expand gas capacity in the country. All LNG infrastructure in the country is currently located in Luzon with 3376 MW of energy capacity currently operating from Bataan and Batangas. With the moratorium on greenfield coal power plants recently issued by the DOE in 2020, energy developers now look to LNG to meet the island’s energy demand. The application of the San Miguel Consolidated Power Corporation for the 300 MW Sangali LNG Power Plant is slated to be the first LNG power plant to operate in Mindanao which has traditionally sourced its energy from coal-fired power.
Climate group Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) has registered their opposition against plans to expand LNG use in Mindanao as a response. The groups have stated that the environmental impacts and health concerns associated with the use of LNG for energy is comparable to that of coal and that a reevaluation and review of the energy system is needed to gear the country towards a renewable future.
“Science has shown that fossil gas is no replacement for coal,” PMCJ Mindanao coordinator Rara Ada has said, “the elevated methane emissions from its operations will only continue to exacerbate the climate crisis while the reports from Batangas have shown that communities are presented with higher susceptibility to cardiovascular and upper respiratory diseases due to fossil gas activities in their communities. ”
These demands have started to gain traction from communities in Sangali, Zamboanga City as well as other non-profit organizations such as the GITIB Inc., PALAG Mindanao, Oriang Women’s Movement – Mindanao Chapter, and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) who have all asserted that gas-fired power should not be allowed in Mindanao.
Roldan Gonzales of GITIB, for instance, has said that “Fossil gas should be kept out of our Mindanao. We have already seen the harm of fossil fuels in our long struggle against coal. It is utterly illogical for the DOE to allow construction of gas infrastructure when the agency itself has only begun to acknowledge the damage they bring to the planet and the well-being of nearby communities.” Gonzales continued by saying that the Philippine government must remain consistent with their energy policy against fossil fuels in order to show that they are serious in addressing long standing environmental and community concerns.
Furthermore, PALAG Mindanao and FDC have said that gas expansion in the country presents a threat to energy security by pointing out that the Philippine Energy Plan 2018-2040 has reported that the country’s domestic reserves of LNG would be depleted by 2024.
“99% of all gas used for energy production in the Philippines is sourced from the Malampaya fields. By allowing the construction of the 300 MW plant in Sangali, the government would be sentencing the people of Mindanao to higher electric prices as we become more dependent on fuel imports due to the depletion of our domestic reserves. This situation is entirely preventable should we develop the abundant indigenous renewable resources of the island instead,” Tina Lomoljo of PALAG Mindanao has added.
The San Miguel Consolidated Power Corporation currently owns and operates the SMC Malita coal-fired power plant in Malita, Davao Occidental. The proposed 300 MW Sangali LNG Power Plant in Zamboanga is one of the company’s two power plants in the province alongside the San Ramon coal-fired power plant which has recently been granted its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
“Mindanao communities stand in solidarity with other communities from across the country,” Rara Ada, Mindanao coordinator, PMCJ, says. “This coordinated action shows that the people now recognize the need to fully reject all forms of fossil fuels which adversely impacted our livelihoods and well-being. We will also not stop here: this is only the first of many mobilizations in our campaign against dirty, deadly, and costly fossil gas energy.”