More than 1,000 people are watching a video about the hazards of having a coal power plant in your backyard.
The video was shown during a protest in the main park in the capital of Palawan.
“We are strongly opposed to this proposed coal-fired power plant… “ says Marlene Jagmis, the protest leader.
“We are calling our fellow citizens to oppose it because there are other sustainable alternatives…”
One of the protesters on stage explains, it’s not just about environmental protection... but also the future of the province.
The proposed power plant in Palawan is a project of the newly-elected governor Jose Alvarez.
It’s set to be built in Aborlan, a small sleepy town of about 25 thousand people.
The power plant will generate 15 megawatts of energy that supporters say will power up to 18 towns.
The Governor’s spokesperson, Gil Acosta, explains why the government wants it built.
“He believes that Palawan has been left behind by other provinces, even though it’s the biggest in the region. Power plays a big role in development. Those who want to invest in Palawan first ask whether there is a stable power supply.”
The power plant was rejected by another town, but the Aborlan’s council approved it.
Protestors accuse the governor of applying heavy pressure on the local government and the environmental council, in order to push through the project.
The government denies the allegation.
“It is not true. In fact, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, had already approved the project, before he became governor and chairman of the council. It was months before the election.”
The entire Palawan province holds the status of UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve.
It’s also home to two UNESCO natural heritage sites.
But WWF Philippines says Palawan may lose its status if the proposed coal power plant goes ahead.
“Man and Biosphere status is like a Nobel Prize for good sustainable development management in one area,” says RJ Dela Calzada, the Palawan project manager for the WWF Philippines.
“Palawan is one of the two recipients in the Philippines. When we say man and biosphere, we’re talking about how human beings consciously use its biosphere for its own benefit... If we fail to meet that criteria then we might be delisted. Having a coal power plant may be a reason to be delisted.”
The proposed site for the coal plant is near a fish sanctuary.
And fishing is a major source of livelihood in the area.
The waste water discharge from the coal plant is deemed hazardous to the marine ecosystem.
Environmentalists, like RJ Dela Calzada from the WWF, say alternative sources of energy should be explored instead.
“How much megawatt do you need in Palawan? There are new technologies in terms of solar that it can provide electricity even without sun for seven days.”
The company that will build the power plant in Aborlan says that they’re open to the idea of mixing coal and biomass in a few years time.
They’re also studying the possibility of using renewable energy for their next projects.
The government’s spokesperson Gil Acosta adds that renewable energy is already on the agenda.
“We have been discussing new and renewable resources for 10 years but they weren’t taken up until this coal plant proposal came along. The most viable proposal for the governor is to use coal and biomass fuels. We’re looking at hydro and wind power, but they won’t be enough…”
But residents like Marlene Jagmis don’t want to take the risk...
“The coal plant poses many hazards like the threat of lung disease or damage to the brain, especially in children. Burned coal can produce chemicals like mercury, which can’t easily be dissolved by so called new technology. This particle can be hazardous to humans, and even babies inside the womb are not spared.”
The UN body is currently reassessing Palawan’s heritage status, in light of the plans for a new coal plant in the province.