Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez on Thursday said that she will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against Energy Development Corporation (EDC), a company owned by her family, which supposedly poses a threat to portions of the remaining virgin forests in Mount Talinis in Negros Oriental.
“We will look into this and I assure the public that DENR will be fair through the entire process and take into account the concerns of all,” Lopez said in response to complaints from environmental advocates and residents of Mt. Talinis.
Mt. Talinis or the Cuernos de Negros mountain range in Negros Oriental is a key biodiversity area (KBA), spanning 23, 565 hectares and covering the municipalities of San Jose, Sibulan, Dauin, Zamboanguita, Siaton, Sta. Catalina, Pamplona, Amlan, and Valencia.
EDC, which operates a 223-megawatt geothermal plant in Valencia, Negros Oriental, submitted an application for an environmental clearance certificate to expand plant capacity by 60 megawatts.
EDC is a pioneer in geothermal energy in the Philippines.
Local residents are opposed to the expansion, saying it would lead to cutting old-growth trees in the mountain range.
Lopez said that the DENR Environmental Management Bureau office in the region has held public hearings on the application to gather the position and opinions of stakeholders.
“Through good environmental governance, we aim to harmonize our economic activities with nature through sound practices that will not only address climate change but ensure the sustainable use of our resources, conservation and preservation,” Lopez said.
This was the paramount reason for her adherence to strict compliance with environmental laws, rules, regulations, and standards, the cabinet official said, emphasizing that “there is no room for violation.”
“This is our guiding principle, our commitment, our preaching, and our practice in our quest for sustainable development. This is our call to all stakeholders. Our concern for the environment and the pursuit of the common good transcends familial and other ties,” she added.
In April 2016, environmental group 350 Pilipinas sought the DENR’s help in a petition signed by 3,000 individuals. The petition called the DENR not to issue an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the proposed expansion of the Energy Development Corporation-Southern Negros Geothermal Project (EDC-SNGP).
Zeph Repollo of 350 Pilipinas said the previous EDC expansion in the area last year destroyed 576 natural old growth trees at Cuernos de Negros.
“Now, the EDC is proposing another expansion covering the area of 5,163 hectares,” she said, noting that the proposed development block is within a key biodiversity area.
An Environmental Performance Report and Management Plan (EPRMP) submitted to DENR in April 2016 noted the EDC-SNGP’s development block lies within Cuernos de Negros, which was recognized as a KBA.
Cuernos de Negros is on the list of conservation priority areas.
“Old growth forest surrounds the peak and lakes covering an area of about 4,800 hectares. About 3,000 hectares is classified as close natural forest while about 1,800 hectares is secondary natural forest,” Repollo said.
Repollo said the remaining forest at Cuernos de Negros is the remaining 1 percent natural forest in Negros Oriental.
“It is not only a habitat to wildlife but also serves as water source for the entire southern part of Negros,” she said.