Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas (BMB) and Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) welcomed on Friday the cease and desist order issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) against two natural gas projects undergoing illegal development in Batangas City, and asked that project proponents be held liable for their violations.
On May 22 this year, BMB and CEED - which hail the Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP) network - filed a letter complaint with the DAR over illegal or premature conversion of landholdings in Barangays Ilijan and Dela Paz by the San Miguel Corporation-owned Excellent Energy Resources, Inc.(SMC-EERI) and Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company with Linseed Field Corporation (AG&P-Linseed) for a new 1.75 GW liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant and an LNG import terminal, respectively.
“Although there was an application for conversion filed on May 26, 2022 by the corporation, it was still apparent from the ocular inspection and their own admission that the development started even before the application was approved…it is apparent that illegal conversion is indeed being undertaken currently in the subject landholdings, thus, there is an urgent need to stop the developments in the area or else the construction will continue to the detriment of the complainants being affected in the area,” the order reads.
“We are appalled that these companies have the audacity to strip bare entire portions of land and destroy nearshore marine life without even securing necessary clearance. This would have gone on if not for the vigilance of local stakeholders. Now that it finally recognizes that illegal activities are going on, DAR must take action and hold SMC-EERI and AG&P-Linseed accountable,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED and co-convenor of Protect VIP.
The fisherfolk and energy advocates have been raising concern over the development of new gas projects in Batangas due as it is encompassed by the biodiversity hotspot known as the Verde Island Passage (VIP), which provides food for millions of Filipinos and is the source of livelihood of Batangas’s fisherfolk.
“Nangangamba ang mga mangingisda ng Batangas para sa kabuhayan namin. Ilang taon nang kumakaunti ang nahuhuli namin, at ngayon napakaraming bagong banta sa Verde Island Passage. Mariin ang pagtutol namin sa mga plantang ito ng gas na sumisira sa kalikasan at pumapatay sa kabuhayan namin,” said Tom Buitizon, chairperson of BMB.
While the order is welcome, the energy advocate said the next steps imposed by DAR - are too lenient to the violating proponents, and even questionably brands the projects as ‘priority energy projects.’
“We do not understand why DAR would say these are priority projects, considering pursuing them amid a global energy crunch will bring exceptionally high LNG electricity prices, on top of detriments to the environment and local communities. We hope the DAR will not fail in its primary responsibility to legally charge SMC-EERI and AG&P-Linseed for this land conversion violation,” Arances added.
Look: Drone photos much development has already occurred in the projects' site as of August 2022. DAR confirms that this was done by SMC-EERI and Linseed-AG&P without proper land conversion applications or permits. Photo by B. Sepe.