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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, April 6, 2015
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with ERROL A. GATUMBATO
OPINIONS

Forest destruction
Last of two parts

The Energy Development Corp. reportedly informed the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental that it is looking into Mount Mandalagan as a potential source of geothermal energy.

This development came after the Department of Energy identified the area as one of the possible sources of geothermal energy. Mount Mandalagan lies at the core of the Northern Negros Natural Park, which is a declared protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of the Philippines, or Republic Act 7586. The NNNP has the largest intact natural forest in the entire Negros Island.

Bishop Vicente Navarra of the Bacolod Diocese issued a pastoral letter against the proposed geothermal energy exploration in NNNP. The bishop has expressed similar sentiment with the EDC's energy development at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park. Navarra has cited the forest destruction entailed by the EDC project in MKNP.

While there is no question that geothermal energy is one of the clean sources of power, there is also no doubt that its development negatively impacts the environmental, contrary to the claim of Dwight Maxino, EDC vice president for the Northern Negros Geothermal Project, that it does not create any harm at all to the environment. The EDC's geothermal development in MKNP involved forest and habitat clearing and natural landscape alteration.

Actually, there is no point of entertaining any proposal for energy survey in NNNP, because the NIPAS Act prohibits it in declared protected areas with a category of a natural park or strict nature reserve. Section 14 of the NIPAS Act explicitly states that “protected areas, except strict nature reserves and natural parks, may be subjected to exploration only for the purpose of gathering information on energy resources and only if such activity is carried out with the least damage to surrounding areas.” It should be understood that each declared protected area of the country has a designated management category that also determines if energy development shall be allowed or prohibited.

The then Philippines National Oil Corporation – EDC was able to explore Mount Kanla-on for geothermal energy since at that time MKNP was not yet declared under the NIPAS. However, any exploitation and utilization of energy resources within NIPAS areas shall be allowed only through a law passed by the Congress, which was exactly what happened to the declaration of the MKNP's buffer zone exclusively for geothermal energy utilization.

It is quite difficult to ask the Congress to declare certain areas of NNNP for energy development, because, in the first place, exploration has yet to be done, but it is not allowed under the present circumstances. I really don't know if it is feasible and practical for the Congress to enact a law solely for energy survey and exploration in protected areas declared as natural parks, like the case of the NNNP.*


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