By Mylce Mella, ABS-CBN
NAGA CITY --- Using the social media through his Facebook account, mountaineer-environmentalist Jojo Villareal pushed the red button to express alarm over the ancient trees that were marked “x” inside the protected Mt. Isarog Natural Park.
The markings, according to Villareal, are indicators that the trees are destined to be cut off to give way to a proposed roadway towards a renewable energy project being constructed in the area.
More fellow netizens have expressed disgust, fear, and strong opposition to the project following Villareal’s posting on his Facebook about the impending plunder of the protected area.
Reporteddly a project of Clean and Green Energy Solutions, the 1.5 megawatt mini-hydro project has been in the works for about a year now.
It has been estimated that three years will be needed to complete the project in Bgy. San Pedro (formerly Bgy. Aroro) in the town of Goa, Camarines Sur. The contractor has been identified as Pacific Summit Construction Group.
So far, an access road has been constructed in the area, with
diggings for large pipes to be installed. A pile of water pipes can be seen in the working site. Also to be constructed are surge tanks, where water will be impounded, reports said.
According to the plan, a part of Rangas River will divert the running water to the proposed plant to produce energy. The power produced will then be sold to the Camarines Sur Electronic Cooperative IV. The Rangas River and the project site, which Villareal and local environmentalists said lie within the Mt. Isarog Protected Area, are within the congressional district of Rep. Noli Fuentebella.
San Pedro Barangay Chairman Jinky Llagas said it was in March last year that she was told about the project. Documents about the project were shown to her by personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) when she requested for them.
“Dakula po an proyektong iyan, siyempre may mga proseso. Bale naghapot po ako ki Bong Moleda (kan DENR) kung ano ang mga papeles na dapat kong mahiling,” Llagas said.
An Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), signed by then DENR Regional Director Gilbert Gonzales last November 2009 was among the documents shown.
There was also a Certificate of Non-Coverage of the project, which showed that it (the project) needed not to secure an ECC for the project operation to start.
Llagas said there were complete documentary requirements shown to her and that many of her constituents were given jobs at the project site.
“Their lives have somehow improved due to the weekly income (they earned from the project),” Llagas said referring to the residents hired for various jobs at the site.
Meanwhile, project manager Engr. Homobono Serrano declined an interview but assured this reporter that their papers and documents are in order. He added that they have applied for permit from the DENR to cut a total of 73 trees along the project site but such application is still under processing by the DENR.
The project did not escape attention by the Ateneo de Naga University Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research and according to their investigation, a dam to be constructed as part of the mini-hydro project will be situated right within the restricted premises of the Mt. Isarog Natural Park.
“When water supply decreases because of the hydro project, organisms and other natural inhabitants downstream of the river will be severely affected,”according to Joanaviva Plopenio, officer-in-charge of ADNU-INECAR.
“We have a law, the NIPAS law of 1992, with its implementing rules that clearly restrict activities within the natural park. So that project should not have been allowed,” she stressed.
As far as the INECAR, the ECC that Clean and Green Energy Solutions has been talking about had already expired. INECAR plans to submit their own report to the DENR.
“As much as possible, we will submit such report in the national level, to DENR Secretary Gina Lopez. Mas marhay duman para madali an aksyon,” Plopenio said.
If the Department of Energy were to be asked, its spokesperson and Undersecretary Wimpy Fuentabella, former congressman and son of the incumbent congressman of the 4th district ng Camarines Sur that comprises the controversial project, averred that natural resources may be utilized to produce alternative renewal sources of energy.
“We have to develop our natural resources for wealth creation, for us to compete with other countries. We have to be very logical and scientific in approaching all these problems…if we keep on delaying certain projects then we will have a problem,” he stressed.
The preservation and protection of Mt. Isarog Natural Park is very important as it is the source of potable water that are supplied to various municipalities surrounding the mountain, including the burgeoning city of Naga.
The mountain is enveloped by fresh, clean air and is home to rare species of fauna and faura, including the endemic Isarog shrew rat, cloud frog, at forest skink, which are of great interest to scholars and scientists.
The natural park at the higher portion of Mt. Isarog was declared as a protected area in 2002. Mylce Mella, ABS-CBN