POSTSCRIPT / September 10, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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DENR ready to take on Napocor on coal plants?

WATCH THEM: The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has promised to test all coal-fired power plants in the country mainly to check if emissions exceed standards set by law. About time.

Environment Secretary Heherson T. Alvarez said the Environmental Management Bureau has formed five teams to do this with the support of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute and the Department of Health.

The DENR-EMB teams was set to inspect the 300-megawatt plant in barangay San Rafael, Calaca, Batangas, and the 600-mw plant in barangay Bani, Masinloc, Zambales, last Sept. 3; the 433-mw plant in barangay Cagsiay I, Mauban, Quezon, and the 700-mw plant in barangay Polo-Ibaba, Pagbilao, Quezon, last Sept. 5; and the 1,200-mw plant in barangay Pangascasan, Sual, Pangasinan, yesterday.

We are awaiting the results, and the continuation of the studies that will cover other coal-fired plants of the National Power Corp. and independent power producers (IPPs).

Concerned sectors and lawmakers are demanding the closure of coal plants amid technical reports that they emit poisonous wastes in violation of standards set under the Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749).

Alvarez (one of the principal authors of the Clean Air Act) has revoked the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the proposed 50-mw Pulupandan coal-fired power plant in Negros Occidental, after the project was denounced by residents and environmental advocates.

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ALTERNATE FUELS: At the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development sponsored by the United Nations in Johannesburg, South Africa, there was a clear global consensus for clean and renewable energy sources such as the sun (solar), wind, and water (hydro-electric).

For motor vehicles, major contributors to air pollution especially in urban centers, the preferred alternate fuels cited were natural gas, refined alcohol, and other derivative fuels. It has been found that fossil fuels such as coal and oil-based gasoline and diesel emit neurotoxins and carcinogens.

Under fire for its continued use of coal, the Napocor said it intends to shift to local coal. The power firm is missing (deliberately?) the whole point. Whether imported or locally mined, coal is coal and it is a dirty fuel.

The Napocor insists on its pro-coal policy, because it imports some P10 billion of that fuel for its own plants and some IPPs that are bound by an exclusive contract to source their fuel only through the power firm.

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CANCER IN THE AIR: Coal accounts for 40 percent of Napocor’s own fuel. With a syndicate raking in millions from commissions in the purchase of coal, deciding to phase out coal is proving to be a difficult decision for Napocor officials and their associates.

Will not shutting down the coal plants cripple Napocor? No, because the closure or retooling can be done in stages with the power plants found to be grossly inefficient and seriously polluting the air going ahead.

Napocor admits that 99 percent of highly poisonous wastes are released through the smokestacks of coal-fired plants. Mercury in the air is wafted some 10 kilometers from its source, its presence in the surroundings indicated by sooty ash.

Studies of the US Environmental Protection Agency have shown that diesel exhausts from large trucks and other sources probably cause lung cancer. In Metro Manila, the soot emitted by diesel and other inefficient engines is evident in such well-traveled routes as EDSA.

Everybody has been lamenting the fact of “cancer in the air,” with asthma and respiratory diseases being cited also as caused by heavy pollution on the road, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it with impact.

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CATCHING EYE OF PALACE: My barber has what he said is a surefire remedy to the anguished cry that the Arroyo administration is not showing enough interest in pushing the Philippine claim to Sabah.

He said the heirs of the Sulu sultan, who own that valuable piece of land grabbed by Malaysia in 1963 and arbitrarily annexed to its federation, only have to do two things: (1) Contribute massively to the campaign kitty of President Arroyo, and (2) promise to deliver the votes in that southern corner of the archipelago in 2004.

Hindi naman siguro, we admonished him. But he continued to say that better still the heirs should retain that famous Law Firm on Perea St. in Makati to write the needed documents and help establish the right connect to Malacanang.

With that done, my barber said, watch Malacanang jump to recover control of that territory torn from the Philippine map.

Sabah cannot be recovered within the remaining 20 months of the tenure of President Arroyo, but the Palace’s show of interest is enough to keep the claim alive and keep the Sulu bloc on GMA’s side until the 2004 elections.

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PAST RESEARCH STAGE: It seems that the Arroyo administration is a bit unsure of itself and is studying the claim all over again. But old hands at the foreign office say that we are past the “research and study” stage and should be now in the implementation stage.

President Arroyo can and should take inspiration or borrow from the thoughts of her late father, then President Diosdado Macapagal who initiated the claim.

Reports had it then that Macapagal changed the date of observance of our Independence Day from July 4 to June 12 partly because he was given the cold shoulder when he broached the idea that the US help us recover Sabah from the imperialistic British in the same way they (Washington) helped us recover Turtle Islands.

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IGNORED, INSULTED: Reader Sophia Verzosa emailing from Canada recalled that upon the arrival in London in 1963 of the Philippine team to discuss Sabah before it was to be made a part of the Malaysian federation, the Press Secretary of then President Kennedy made an unsolicited statement that the Philippines did not have a legal claim to Sabah.

(Strange but this no-legal-basis echo from the past was repeated by Justice Secretary Hernando Perez days ago as his contribution to the Malaysian cause and his share in the killing of the Philippine claim.)

Told by the Britons there was nothing to talk about, the Philippine team led by then Vice President and concurrently Foreign Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez immediately went home empty handed.

Many nations, including Malaysia, continue to insult us with their insolence. What does Malacanang intend to do about the sad fact that even supposed allies no longer take this poor and weak country seriously? Keeping quiet about Sabah certainly won’t help.

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EAST ASIA SIDELIGHT: During the continuation of the trial of Jose Armando Eduque, Antonio Herbosa et al., last Aug. 29, the lawyers of Eduque moved that Judge Romeo F. Barza of Makati RTC Branch 61 inhibit himself because they read in the newspapers that he was a founding partner of the Carpio Villaraza Barza & Cruz Law Offices and that Carpio Law is involved in the settlement of East Asia Capital Corp’s creditors.

The judge could have denied the motion, because Eduque’s lawyers failed to prove that the Carpio Law was involved in the said settlement and in the prosecution of the civil aspect in the case before the court. Besides, Barza already dissociated himself from Carpio Law 17 long years ago.

However, in the trial of another accused, Antonio Herbosa, the judge elicited from him the fact that Dona Consuelo Madrigal, who was Barza’s client before his appointment to the judiciary, holds significant interest in East Asia, and that Susana Madrigal-Eduque, a director of East Asia, is the wife of accused Eduque and the same Susana Madrigal who is the daughter of Don Antonio Madrigal, who, in turn, was Barza’s client when the judge was still in private practice.

With these disclosures, Barza immediately cut the proceedings and inhibited himself. We wonder if the lawyers of Eduque from Romulo, Mabanta Law collected their fees for that day. The judge inhibited himself not because of their motion based on a news clipping, but because of the judge’s own cross examination of the accused.

Moral of the story: A great lawyer should not rely only on newspaper accounts. He should not only study his case, but also study the judge.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 10, 2002)

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