Pro-environment groups decried the alleged “lack of transparency and fair consultations” on the proposed construction of a 300-MW hydropower plant in the central Philippines.
The project includes the construction of two dams or reservoirs along the Nabaoy and Imbaroto rivers and an underground powerhouse with a 577-meter access tunnel in Malay town in Aklan province.
Strategic Power Development Corp, a wholly-owned subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) Global Power Holdings Corp, will build the Php26.3-billion pumped-storage hydropower facility.
Dr. Rebecca Tandug, chairperson of the Philippine Initiative for Environmental Conservation, said the government and the proponent of the project failed to present its details to the affected communities.
She said the people “don’t even understand where exactly, how huge the construction is, and the possible damages to their rivers and roads.”
Tandug said a “cost-benefit analysis” of the project, which is necessary to allow the people to “make intelligent decisions,” was not presented to the community.
She added that it is “not clear” if the Environment department conducted “a rigid biodiversity risk assessment” to determine if the project will “affect the sensitive ecological state of the covered protected area.”
The proposed hydro project will cover about 122 hectares of land area, including at least 22 hectares of land inside the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park.
“The natural park is the only remaining low-lying forest in Panay Island and home to endemic species of flora and fauna and a habitat for the endangered wildlife,” said Tandug.
The Department of Energy awarded the hydro service contract to the proponent in 2014. The construction of the dams and pumped-storage hydropower facility will take at least 46 months.
Rodne Galicha of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines said the government must inform the public of the project’s long-term effect on biodiversity and communities.
He said the construction of the facility within the natural park will “greatly affect the area’s ecosystem and natural processes.”
“It is a false solution for Panay Island’s energy needs,” he said.
“We encourage the shareholders of SMC to make a stand against this false solution,” he said, adding that by allowing it, “shareholders become accomplices in a future crime – ecocide.”
Galicha said that while his organization welcomes the move of SMC to shift to cleaner energy sources, “we cannot sacrifice biodiversity to pave the way for an energy project.”
“We would like to emphasize that the hydropower project is better if the proponent will make sure that there shall be no adverse effect on the ecosystem,” he added.
Environmental activist Ritchel Casidsid-Cahilig said the proposed project “will utilize and control critical portions” of the river system that “can cause a negative impact on the natural environment.”
“If this natural environment is disturbed, it can potentially alter the way of life of the locals and the future generations will no longer benefit from them,” she said.
In October 2019, the environment department and the Protected Area Management Board endorsed the project.