27 August 2015
Biodiversity, Innovation, Trade & Society (BITS)
St. Paul of the Cross Pastoral Center
Novitiate Compound, National Highway
General Santos City
Contact person : Ms. Cecil Diono, cellphone : 0918-2301283
Marine organisms thriving at the bottom of the jetty of the Sarangani coal-fired power plant, before they were destroyed by the construction of the jetty.(PHOTO : courtesy of John Heitz)
Sr. Susan O. Bolanio, OND and Fr. Rey Ondap, CP, Executive Director of the Passionist Center – Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, Inc. (PC-JPIC) held a press conference in General Santos City this morning informing the public that they sought the help of the Supreme Court, citing also in their petition Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si, to intervene in a case that the two initiated over a year ago, and, among other requests to the Court, to apply the precautionary principle and stop the construction of the 200 MW coal-fired power plant in Kamanga, Sarangani of the Alcantara-owned Sarangani Energy Corporation.
“Corals, these are valuable creatures, if no one will speak for them, their destruction will continue, with the construction of this coal-fired power plant in Kamanga, Maasim, Sarangani”, said Sr. Susan O. Bolanio, OND in her opening statement to the press conference, one of the petitioners to the Supreme Court and a long-time advocate of social and environmental causes in the SOCSARGEN (South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos City) region.
For his part, co-Petitioner Fr. Rey Ondap, CP of PC-JPIC, cited the other paragraphs in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si on the care for the earth, among which are : para. 165, which called for the technologies using fossil fuels (such as coal-fired power plants) to be replaced without delay, and para. 41 on the importance of coral reefs which are comparable to the great forests on dry land, and many of them are already barren and in a state of constant decline.
The petition the two filed to the Supreme Court cited para. 186 which states “this precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof.”
The precautionary principle is also laid out in Rule 20 of the Rules of Procedure on Environmental Cases (R.P.E.C), promulgated by the Supreme Court in 2010, but the duo asked the Supreme Court when will it actually apply in a case before a judge, which is a novel question before the Supreme Court.
What happened in this case was that, the two filed a case before the Justice on Wheels of Sarangani, actually last year, on 29 May 2014, and they asked the local court for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) to stop the construction of the 200 MW coal-fired power plant owned by Sarangani Energy Corporation in Kamanga, Sarangani, as the construction of the jetty had caused damage to the adjacent underwater marine ecosystem.
Since that time until before they filed the SC petition, the Justice on Wheels of Sarangani did not immediately rule either granting or denying the request, for, instead of relying on the affidavit of long-time marine enthusiast John Heitz, who first brought out the issue before the local media, the Court wanted to educate itself and time was spent on who will do the study to validate the allegations of damage to the underwater marine ecosystem where the jetty was being constructed.
A study was finally done last 13 March 2015 by a court-organized diving team, but apparently the validation report of the team originally submitted to the Court was retrieved by DENR CENRO Wahid Amelia after only a day it was submitted in court and said report was substituted with another which, if examined closely, has a significant missing part that is supposed to deal with the damage caused to the marine ecosystem caused by the construction of the jetty.
This is what petitioners pointed out, that there are missing parts of the validation report which jumped from part VI to part VIII, without a loss in pagination and the objective of the study is to validate the alleged reef damage due to jetty construction, and nowhere is the discussion of such damage found in the substitute report that was given to the petitioners, indicating that such part could most likely be deleted.
Petitioners asked the Justice on Wheels for a copy of the original report that was retrieved by the CENRO, but it was ignored, indicating that such report is already missing, as no copy of it was left behind in the files of the Court, based on inquiries with the Court staff.
In para. 39 of their Petition, Petitioners pointed out a rule of evidence, a disputable presumption actually, which states that “evidence wilfully suppressed would be adverse if produced.”
In a strange twist to the case, the presiding Judge of the Justice on Wheels of Sarangani, Hon. Oscar P. Noel, Jr. inhibited himself in an order dated 26 June 2015 from further handling the case, thus putting the immediate resolution of the issues raised by the case in doubt, though Judge Noel referred the case to the Office of the Court Administrator for a decision on what sala will hear the case eventually.
But time is running out, as the coal-fired power plant is about to be completed, including the jetty, thus the resort to the Supreme Court, where petitioners asked the Supreme Court to issue itself the Temporary Environmental Protection Order under the Writ of Kalikasan rules or the Rules of Procedure on Environmental Cases.
Petitioners also asked the Supreme Court to make an inquiry, starting with the divers who did the dive last 13 March 2015 and helped prepare the validation report, whether there may be collusion between the CENRO Wahid Amelia and the Sarangani Energy Corporation, for the disappearance of the original report.