By: Roi Anthoni B. Lomotan
DUMAGUETE CITY (PIA) – The Friends of the Environment in Negros Oriental has criticized the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) over its alleged massive cutting of century-old trees for its geothermal operation and expansion projects in Negros Oriental that threaten the dwindling watershed areas in the province.
This was raised during the Kapihan sa PIA recently with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), FENOR, Silliman University, Social Action Center of the Diocese of Dumaguete, 350.Org, representatives from the local government unit of Dauin, Bayawan, Siaton, Sta. Catalina and San Jose, academe, media among other sectors which composed the more than 60 multi-sectoral participants.
Environment groups and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the province are worried on the negative impact of alleged cutting down of trees at the watershed area.
Prof. Renee Paalan of Silliman University cited the importance of forest area of Mt. Talinis. She said these trees help store water and prevent soil erosion in watersheds.
Leo Mamicpic, a co-founder of FENOR mentioned the towns of San Jose, Bacong, Sta. Catalina, Sibulan and Dauin are some of the municipalities that will be greatly affected if watersheds in the area are damaged since they rely on the watershed as their primary water source.
Mamicpic stressed to the public the need to conserve Mt. Talinis forest portion since this guards the province’s watershed areas.
FENOR is an environmental advocacy group on climate change, bio-diversity conservation, reforestation and other environment-related issues which concerns are being carried out through education and policy campaign.
The issue on the province’s watershed areas stems from a deeper problem which is deforestation, Mamicpic said.
A new study conducted by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Study shows that small-scale deforestation causes a noticeable change in local temperature, aside from the damage to the quality of the land.
Environment groups and CSOs also criticized government agencies like the DENR for granting EDC permit to cut trees in protected zone.
“What is ironic is that agencies in the government that are mandated to protect the environment are the very agencies giving permits to these people to go logging,” said Fr. Burton Villarmente of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Dumaguete.
In response, DENR Forester Raul Russel confirmed that EDC has been granted permit to cut 600 trees within its area but part of the condition was to replace those that had been cut.
EDC has been conducting tree planting as part of its corporate social responsibility, but these seedlings they are planting cannot replace the benefits those old trees gave us, Villarmente said.
Meanwhile, Zephanie Danieles of 350.Org wanted to clarify from the DENR official if EDC is exempted from securing and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for its expansion projects.
Russel then clarified that EDC is not exempted from applying for ECC. However, he noted that based on E.0. 23 there is a moratorium on total cutting of trees except for energy or road projects but these exemptions are subject to a thorough study from the department.
With this, environment groups and CSOs now ask the DENR if it can publish at local dailies the permits it issued to EDC as well as the geothermal plant’s development plans.
Dondee Señeris of the Visayan Forum said the official publication of these permits would entail public accountability and would raise the awareness of the public on its impact to the environment.
“We really need an official publication of the whereabouts of projects,” Señeris said.
Michael Araula, a representative of the local government unit of Dauin also said official publication of DENR permits and EDC’s development plan could contribute to a more transparent process of public consultation.
Russel assured all the environmental groups in the forum that there suggestions are well taken and he will forward this to other officials of DENR in the province.
On the other hand, the FENOR and other environment groups expressed disappointment of the non-appearance of EDC during the forum as supposed to be one of the panelists but failed to attend due to prior commitment.
However, they hope that EDC can participate on next forums to shed light to cited issues. (mbcn/ral/PIA7-NegOr/Article first published on PIA Website on July 24, 2014)