Protecting the VIP

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga scored the biggest coup when she brought three of the country’s top tycoons together to form a partnership aimed at protecting and conserving the Verde Island Passage (VIP).

It was a master stroke on Yulo-Loyzaga’s part, as business leaders Manuel Pangilinan, Ramon Ang and Sabin Aboitiz are already teaming up anyway for the landmark first integrated liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Ilijan, Batangas.

The significance of that historic partnership, valued at $3.3 billion (P185.2 billion) was not lost on Yulo-Loyzaga. She had the three tycoons form a technical working group (TWG) to determine their roles in the protection and conservation of the VIP’s marine biodiversity for the next five years. The TWG will be up in 30 days. As the three firms will be operating a major power facility, the Department of Energy is also a major partner in the environment project.

The deal can also be seen as the natural course of action for these energy stakeholders. After all, the Ilijan LNG facility had already been operating in Batangas for more than 20 years.  And while environmentalists tend to speak of the VIP only as a center of marine biodiversity, what is not being said enough is that it is also one of the country’s main shipping routes busier sea lanes.

Curiously enough, even if the Ilijan LNG plant has been supplying the bulk of Luzon’s electricity for over two decades, it was only from 2022, when ownership transferred to San Miguel’s power unit, that environmentalist groups started waging war against LNG. Or rather, a proxy war against SMC.

The campaign against SMC is clearly well-funded, with professionally developed websites and sponsored and boosted posts galore on social media. The campaign aims to characterize LNG as a “dirty fuel” and therefore evil, and cast SMC as the devil for spearheading the use of LNG in the Philippines.

Never mind that LNG is a major and critical source of power for the country, or that there are many other energy firms using LNG, or that it is crucial to our energy security – reason why government is pushing for more private sector investments on it.

The Ilijan gas plant is even more crucial now, with the world in the midst of a Western-induced transition toward cleaner energy sources. Renewable energy sources, owing to their intermittent and unreliable nature, cannot yet fully support the needs of our people, industries and economy.

Environmentalist groups, however, remain hell-bent, not just on gas-lighting every Filipino that uses electricity, but also putting the blame for any and all environmental risks to the VIP, solely on SMC. With the facilities soon to be jointly owned and operated by the power triumvirate, we wonder what kind of negative storylines they will come up with.

These groups may however find it difficult convincing the public. Unlike them, these companies are doing something by implementing various environment and social development projects.

Already, Pangilinan has raised the need for extensive testing of water conditions and temperature in the area, which could impact marine life. Pangilinan, of course, is not new to this. Utilities are among his top interests with clean, potable water ensured by his firm in every household.

For Aboitiz, it is not enough that his energy firm strives to add renewables to its portfolio. It also becomes imperative that they work with the government in ensuring environment protection and sustainability.

For Ang, it will be a continuation of his advocacy for a cleaner and breathing environment as evidenced by his effort to bring life back to the Pasig and San Juan rivers up to the Laguna Bay, after various previous efforts have fallen short. The VIP will now be among Ang’s environmental advocacies.

Will they succeed? Well, lets just say the chances of success for the protection of VIP are much higher now than ever.

Avoiding the heat

During the recent congressional hearings on the precarious power supply situation, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) chairperson Monalisa Dimalanta were nowhere to be seen while their underlings were grilled for hours by lawmakers.

Their absence earned the ire of Senate committee on energy chairperson Raffy Tulfo.

The Senate also pounced on the ERC and DOE’s inefficiency in conducting regular inspections of power plants to verify their condition. Senator Francis Escudero expressed disappointment when the DOE and ERC both admitted they only conduct inspections of power plants every five years and merely depend on the reports submitted by power generation firms.

Meanwhile, during the House hearing, it was revealed that 226 of the 234 system yellow and red alerts from 2016 to 2023, or a staggering 96.6 percent, were caused by generation issues such as unplanned or emergency shutdowns.

House energy committee chair Rep. Lord Allan Velasco noted that these supply issues have persisted for decades, affecting the Filipinos’ way of life and the country’s economy.

It would have been ideal if Lotilla and Dimalanta were there to take the cudgels for their respective agencies. But their absence, whatever excuse they may have, showed that they could not stand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

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