Semirara, the Empty Wealthy

Caluya is a first class municipality in the province of Antique, Philippines. The municipality consists of three major islands (Semirara, Caluya, and Sibay) as well as several minor islets, namely, Liwagao, Nagubat, Panagatan, Sibato and Sibolo all located in the Tablas Strait between Mindoro and Panay islands.

According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 30,046 people.

Semirara Island has an area of 55 square kilometers (21 sq. mi), and is home to the Panian Mine, a vast open-pit coal mine in operation since 1999, and the Unong Mine (in production from 1984 to 2000).

The governor of Antique expressed fears over the reported expansion of Semirara Mining and Power Corp. in the province after an accident affected one of its mining pits last year.

Antique Governor Rhodora Cadiao said that reports have it that the DMCI-run company is planning an expansion program that involves reclamation of the waters around the Semirara Island.

Cadiao said that, as far as she knows, the expansion of the coal mining operations, which involves an estimated 10,000-hectare area, is already 5 to 7 kilometers off the shore.

“East Panian expansion program… It is almost 10,000 hectares of area in the sea; they were putting some topsoil there. They will reclaim (some part of the sea), and inside of it, in the middle, they will dig some more and thinking to build another pit,” she said.

While the expansion could be legal, the governor said that safety issues are the government’s main concern especially after last year’s accident that killed six people.

“If they cannot assure safety in the mine that eventually not in the sea, what it will be that they are planning to explore under the sea?” she said.

Cadiao also fears that the whole of Semirara Island — an island as small as Boracay — could slowly sink because of the mining operations that has been going on in there for around 20 years.

She said two mining pits in Semirara have already shown signs of exhaustion, following two deadly accidents.

The collapse of Panian pit last week, Cadiao said, might be due to the fact that the miners are already digging too deep — reportedly around 2 kilometers below sea level now.

“Within the bowels of the earth they are getting now, now they are planning to expand more,” she said.

Cadiao said that they have already talked to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources about the matter since the agency is the one giving out permits.

She explained that the province of Antique only owns the site and they only get “a portion of the national wealth” that come from mining.

Despite the money the province can get from mining operations — especially after the mining pit accidents — Cadiao is starting to ask if it is truly worth it.

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Environment groups renewed calls for government to scrap all approved coal-fired power plant projects and coal mining permits after the fatal landslide in an open-pit coal mine in Semirara Island, Antique last year.

The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Power for People Campaign Network, healthcare and religious groups, and other environment advocates asserted coal will do more harm to people than address the power needs of the country.

In particular, the PMCJ is urging the Philippine government to revoke approved applications for coal power projects and coal mining permits.

The groups is also calling for the phasing out of all existing coal power projects and replace them with cleaner and safer renewable energy (RE) projects.

“It is worth the progress and the money that we’re going to get?” she said, pointing out that lives of miners are at stake in these operations.

The governor said that they have already recommended the closure of the Panian pit after the accident last year.

“Building RE projects are no longer as expensive as it was once. And it may be more challenging in terms of financial cost, but coal projects have a bigger expense on health and environment,” PMCJ lead convenor Lidy Nacpil said.

In exposing more harmful effects of coal projects, PMCJ cited preliminary results of a Harvard study that showed coal could kill 1,673 persons a year, or 50,000 in 25 years in the Philippines.

PMCJ national coordinator Gerry Arances said this is because coal aggravates the causes of premature deaths, like stroke and heart attack.

“The estimates did not even include deaths caused by upper respiratory diseases, which is another story,” he said.

But the Harvard study is pretty conservative, Healthy Energy Initiative campaigner Dr. Renzo Guinto said. The number of deaths could actually be beyond projections as the Philippines approve more coal projects, he noted.

“Climate change, caused by harmful emissions from coal plants, will aggravate diseases,” he said.

“That’s why energy development should consider the health aspects and impact. We, in the health sector, are one in saying no to coal,” Guinto added.

Semirara Island is now in a critical condition, considering its status right now. Anytime, the Island will shrink because it has no foundations at all and it has no minerals and plants to hold on.

It is one of the environmental issues because of the scarcity of what we call green shadow. There are a lot of chemicals flying in the air and very hazardous to those people working out there. But they have no choice, in order to live; they must face the consequences even if it is their death.







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