Families near Bataan coal plant face displacement

COAL PLANT. The SMC Consolidated Power Corp (SMCCPC) plant and a coal-fired power plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both SMC subsidiaries – are located in Limay town in Bataan province. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

BATAAN, Philippines – More than 200 families in a community near fuel and coal-fired power plants in Limay town are being told to leave their homes after they complained of health problems, including skin and respiratory diseases.

The provincial government of Bataan said that it would provide housing for 250 affected families within the next 3 to 5 months, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in a statement on Tuesday, February 21.

"Governor Albert Garcia said informal settlers within the SMC’s (San Miguel Corporation) buffer zone would be given priority," the DENR said.

The SMC Consolidated Power Corporation’s 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawat plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation – are located in the area. Both companies have said that the illnesses were not directly caused by the presence of the plants in the area.

In a phone interview, Undersecretary Arturo Valdez said that the families could be relocated "from the industrial zone to Fiesta Homes" in Limay.

However, according to Limay Concerned Citizens, Inc (LICCI), there are not just 250 families but at least 375 in Barangay Lamao who are directly affected by the power plants.

Community opposes relocation plan

Many of the residents who have lived in the affected areas as far back as the 1950s oppose the plan.

“Sanay na kaming kumain ng bagoong, talbos, maayos ang paninirahan, malawak ang aming iniikutan. Kapag kami nailipat doon sa Fiesta Homes, hindi masaya. Bakit? Hindi libre, mga kapatid. May bayad,” Daisy Pedranza, a longtime resident of Barangay Limay said.

(We’re used to eating shrimp paste and leafy greens, having a proper home, and enjoying wider space. We won’t be happy if we’ll be relocated to Fiesta Homes. Why? Because it’s not free. We have to pay for it.)

Daisy explained that while local authorities promised to pay for their first 3 months under the Community Mortgage Program, the plan could eventually burden poor families who do not have the means to pay for the rest of their stay.

“Kaya kailangan maging aware tayo. Hindi ibig sabihin na ilipat tayo doon sa maganda, magarang tahanan, eh, okay na sa atin. Kailangan mag-isip tayo,” she said.

(This is why we should be aware of the issue. We shouldn’t give in just just because they said we’ll be relocated to beautiful, fancier houses. We should carefully think about it.)

Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants here. More than half of those affected were children and teenagers, aged between zero and 17. They mainly suffer from cough and colds, tuberculosis, and skin rashes. – With a report from Jules Matabuena/Rappler.com