Monday, September 28, 2015

DENR rejects power firm’s bid to cut mangrove trees in Masbate

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) -- An application filed by a giant power firm for a permit to cut down mangrove trees along the shoreline of Mobo, Masbate has been denied by the regional office for Bicol here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The application filed by David M. Consunji (DMCI) Power Corp. was for it to be allowed to clear a portion of the shore of Barangay Tugbo of over 50 fully-grown species of the evergreen trees for the construction of a private wharf.

The company currently operates a diesel power plant in the area based on a contract awarded in 2007 by the National Power Corp. (NPC) for the supply of power for 15 years through a Power Supply Agreement with Masbate Electric Cooperative (Maselco).

Grace Cariño, the regional chief of the DENR’s Conservation and Development Division, over the weekend said here that DMCI’s request for a permit to cut down at least 54 mangrove trees was recently denied by her office in favor of preserving these ecologically important coastal resources.

The refusal to grant the request was also consistent with the DENR’s primary mandate of protecting and preserving Bicol region’s already dwindling mangrove forest under its “ridge to reef” initiative geared towards healthy and well-managed river basins and coastal areas where people and nature thrive, Cariño explained.

It is under this initiative that the DENR implemented in Masbate and several other seafront communities in Bicol the Integrated Coastal Resources Management Project (ICRMP) which it considered as one of the government’s most comprehensive biodiversity management programs toward the sustainable management of the marine resources.

Funded with a total amount of Php2.6 billion for its implementation that covered 80 municipalities in seven provinces in the country, the program, which was implemented from 2007 to 2014, was also designed as a poverty alleviation strategy among coastal communities and local fisher folk by providing them greater access to livelihood opportunities.

The ICRMP was implemented in one city and 17 towns of Masbate through a holistic approach premised on the concept that “our coastal and marine resources can only thrive and be sustained if we address threats in the uplands, lowlands and coastal areas,” she said.

It was a joint project of the DENR and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Municipal Development Fund Office under the Department of Finance.

Well-managed coastal and estuarine ecosystems, Cariño said, support livelihoods and provide income from fisheries and tourism while mangrove forests play a central role in coastal protection and transferring organic matter and energy from the land to marine ecosystems.

Compelling evidence suggests that mangroves play an important role in climate stabilization, possessing carbon storage and sequestration potential considered to be greater than that of tropical forests.

In addition, mangrove forests are nesting and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species, as well as home to a wide variety of reptile, amphibian and mammal species as observed from the ones now existing in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon and from the Pawa Mangrove Forest Park being maintained by the city government of Masbate, according to Cariño.

She said the DENR cannot allow mangrove forests of the country to continue to be one of the most severely threatened and undervalued ecosystem on earth as they provide a wide variety of ecosystem services currently valued globally at US.6 billion.

An international study says that mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate and there are numerous threats to these forests, including land development, pollution, deforestation for fuel and climate change.

Establishment of fishponds for aquaculture and industrial development, such as construction of maritime facilities like ports, wharves and other infrastructures, the same study shows, are among the major reasons for the loss of mangroves in the Philippines.

Cariño said the DMCI readily accepted her office decision and vowed to abide by it as the company is opting to an alternative site for the wharf in the same town where no mangroves will be affected.

The establishment of a wharf is said to be part of DMCI’s plan of converting its diesel power plant into a 15-MW coal-fired power facility to bring down the high cost of electricity in the so-called “off-grid” area.

At the same time, putting up coal facilities is expected to reduce the subsidies given to the off-grid areas, whose electricity requirements are being provided by the Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG) of the NPC, the DMCI said.

These subsidies are, meanwhile, being shouldered by grid-connected consumers in mainland areas through the Universal Charge for Missionary Electrification (UCME), it added.

The plan was to have a coal facility in Masbate that would make the country less dependent on petroleum whose prices are highly volatile, pointing out that one kilowatt of power produced will cost about Php2 when coal is used but roughly about Php10 for diesel.

A 15-MW plant will save the country Php560 million a year, it said.

The proposed Masbate coal plant, however, is being opposed by the provincial legislative board and local civil society groups which they claim will not be good for the environment and the health of Masbateños being, by standard, an obsolete and dirty technology.

They said operating the plant will increase in the ambient or natural temperature in the immediate vicinity, putting at risk the ocean ecosystem, considering the expected wastage during the loading and unloading operation.

The Masbate provincial legislative board has instead challenged DMCI to set up for the province solar or wind energy plants.(PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/PJN