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EDITORIAL: Isarog’s imminent plunder

IT GIVES us relief, albeit temporarily, that local mountaineer and environmentalist Jojo Villareal is not alone in his fight against the impending plunder of a protected area in the bosom of Mt. Isarog. Ateneo professor and pro-environment crusader Doods Santos and a lot of netizens were among the first few who heeded Jojo’s call for a unified citizen action against the planned construction of a hydro plant inside the protected area of Mt. Isarog. The project will involve, among others, the cutting of trees toward the project site and the erection of a dam that will divert the water from Rangas River to catch them for power generation. The Ateneo de Naga University Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research has also served warning that when water supply decreases because of the hydro project, organisms and other natural inhabitants downstream of the river will be severely affected. Mt. Isarog is an inactive volcano that rises in the heart of Camarines Sur which is the central part of the Bicol peninsula. The herpetological wonders of the mountain have been internationally acclaimed as one of the Philippines’ most fragile and treasured centers of biological diversity. It is home to at least 143 kinds of birds, 15 of which are endemic to Luzon including a sub-species of the Velvet-fronted Nuthatch which is found only in Mt. Isarog. Other species endemic to the mountain are the Mt. Isarog Shrew Mouse, Isarog Striped Shrew Rat, the Isarog Shrew Rat and the Isolated Forest Frog. Rich in diversity, the park harbors 1,300 known species of plants including hardwood trees, mosses, ferns and orchids. Mammals found in the area include, among others, the Philippine deer, monkeys, bats, wildcat and wild pig. As a natural park, its rainforests continue to attract foreign and local scientists, mountain trekkers, and kind-hearted environmentalists. We are glad that our very own Vice President Leni Robredo has aligned herself against the hydro power project taking her opposition to no less than DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, known as a fiery environmentalist. The DENR, before Lopez was its secretary, granted the Environmental Compliance Certificate, signed by then regional director Gilbert Gonzales in 2009, which should now be considered obsolete as an ECC is only valid for 5 years upon its approval. In her letter-complaint, Robredo asked the DENR about the flooding in Calabanga town, in Camarines Sur which was caused by quarrying operations in its mountains. The power plant project is situated along Rangas River within the protected area of the Mt. Isarog Natural Park that restricts any human activity within the area. The river receives sulfuric water from a 40-meter waterfall. Incidentally, the project site lies in the Goa side of the mountain (that straddles 6 other towns, including Naga City) within the congressional district (Partido) of the Fuentebellas’ political clan. One of the Fuentebella sons is an undersecretary of the Department of Energy whose father was also once the chairman of the House Committee on Energy. More interestingly, it was under the watch of the older Felix Fuentebella, former governor, that a mini-dendro power plant was constructed in a remote corner of a mountain in Sangay, Camarines Sur, whose power to be produced was to be sold at cheap price to the Camarines Sur IV Electric Cooperative. Unfortunately, nothing was heard from since its inauguration and the millions of pesos spent for a much ballyhooed power project then. In her opposition to the present on-going project, VP Robredo expressed concern that the energy project, though categorized as renewable, may not actually be safe and cheap, as it will be put up at the expense of nature and environment. As pointed out by concerned netizens, 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. If abused, the otherwise watershed areas that are safely ensconced in strategic parts of the mountain may be incapable of holding up heavy rains and typhoons and therefore cause heavy and deadly flooding downstream. We just hope that our opposition to the project will bear fruit, even if the VP is not allied with the incumbent Duterte administration.

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