Today, coal-affected communities and civil society organizations held a lightning rally in front of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) headquarters, to demand that the company shut down its coal plants in Limay, Bataan, and shift to renewable energy.
The protest kicked off Break Free 2017, a series of peaceful community mobilisations across the Philippines, as part of the second global wave of actions against fossil fuels.
Despite decades of public calls for urgent measures to tackle climate change and a global climate agreement, global temperatures, the strength and frequency of extreme weather events, and the number of people impacted all continue to increase.
Most of the companies responsible for the lion’s share of industrial greenhouse gas emissions have chosen not to curb their emissions despite having the knowledge and capability to do so.
“Rich fossil fuel companies like SMC surely have the wherewithal to understand why coal is bad for the planet and for local communities. But these companies choose to pursue profits from fossil fuels instead of truly caring about people’s lives.
The Bataan community’s struggle symbolises the global movement of frontline communities and climate impact survivors standing together and resisting greed, to take back their rights to a healthy environment and a viable future,” said Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Residents of Limay, Bataan continue to be exposed to the emissions of SMC Consolidated Power Corporation’s 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawatt plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation.
“SMC’s coal plants continue to operate, even after they have committed serious violations that harmed the environment and the community. This shows that not only are they bad business implementers, but also human rights violators.
They need to be held accountable for the damage they’ve caused,” said Derek Cabe, coordinator of Coal-Free Bataan Movement.
The activists staged a “live diorama” depicting people chained to a “coal demon,” to signify how the fossil fuel industry is controlling the economy, politics, and people’s lives, in favor of profits. Protesters also donned dust masks and chains, to highlight the coal industry’s violation of Filipinos’ right to a future free from the dangers of climate change, as well as their basic right to clean air.
Recent studies, such as the Greenpeace report  released in 2016, have revealed the dangerous impacts of coal-fired power plants on human health.
The report, based on research carried out by Harvard University, showed an estimated 2,410 premature deaths in the Philippines each year due to stroke, ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases from coal-related pollution.
“DENR-EMB Region III should no longer gamble with environmental and people’s health by allowing SMC to continue its deleterious operations in Bataan.
And SMC, on the other hand, shouldn’t continue to tarnish the goodwill its corporate hands built over the years by insisting on an energy source like coal, that’s been proven and verified to be harmful. It is time to unlearn our dependency on fossil fuels, it is time to break free from coal,” said Paeng Lopez of Health Care Without Harm.
While environmental activists welcome President Duterte’s ratification of the Paris Agreement, they are still dismayed by the administration’s lack of concrete action in facilitating the swift transition to renewable energy.
“We demand that DENR immediately issue an order to stop the operation of the coal plants, and for SMC to seriously address the grievances of the communities, including providing a proper relocation area for them.
We also demand that the government include the 2 coal plants in the first 50 ECCs to audit, call for the review of the prevailing standards used by DENR in monitoring waste and emissions, and classify coal ash as hazardous,” said Valentino de Guzman, coordinator of Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
“Last year, a 10,000-strong rally in Batangas City signaled the growing clamor of communities to break free from fossil fuels. Coal has no place in the country’s energy mix. Vulnerable countries like the Philippines should lead in curbing emissions.
We must keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius for a fighting chance to survive, and this requires halting all new fossil fuel development now.” said Chuck Baclagon, 350.org East Asia Campaigner.
Joining the mobilisation are contingents from: Green Thumb Coalition, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Freedom from Debt Coalition, The Climate Reality Project, 350.org, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines), Health Care Without Harm, Coal Free Bataan Movement, SANLAKAS, Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), Dakila, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Notes to Editors: