John*, an officer of the Federation of Lamao Concerned Citizens, Inc., said that on Feb, 21, 2014, members of the Merit Security Agency came to the site of where he buys and sells scrap materials, armed with, and started destroying his storage space. Even prior to this, Ana*, another resident of Lamao,was harassed by security guards of the Philippine National Oil Company, also from the same security agency.
Residents of Lamao are no longer permitted to renovate, improve, or repair their homes. According to national oil company, they will be demolished in preparation for the multiple coal-fired power plants which will be built by SMC. James* says that Merit Security Agency has put up check points, inspecting passersby for construction materials. In addition to checkpoints, five guards are on roving duty daily, checking to see if any of the residents have been doing home improvements. The guards have already destroyed numerous houses, the residents say.
Jana* started rebuilding her small rental space in Lamao. It cost her PHP3,000 [USE$65], which she gave to two officials of the security agency, one a commander named Ignacio, commander of the security agency, and second named Miranda to allow her to safely build her space. But in February 2014, she was met with harassment when Ignacio was replaced by a new official named Carag who ordered her place to be demolished. With her husband out of the country and for fear of retaliation, Jana has filed no cases against anyone.
Land disputes between the national oil company and the residents of Lamao have been ongoing for some time. According to the residents, the area of Lamao was awarded to them by President Ramon Magsaysay in the 1950s. However, the government alleges that during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, who created the national oil company to respond to continuing energy crises, Lamao was awarded to the oil company, which has since claimed the area.
The number of human rights violations appears to be expanding at the same rate as the expansion plans of coal-fired power plants in the area. While residents have complained about health and water hazards, the oil company has offered to move them to cleaner areas rather than shutting down or cleaning the coal power plant which has affected the community. Although the company has offered a relocation site, as with all relocation sites in the Philippines, it is far from their livelihood and without access to employment.
The belief that coal is cheap has been accepted but sadly, its real costs — health hazards, damage to agriculture and fisheries, water contamination, environmental damage, and land grabbing, all of which are human rights violations — are not calculated. The Lamao community has been asking the government to clean up the environmental hazards and toxic wastes from the Petron coal-fired power plant. They have also asked the government to allow them to stay on the land that was awarded to them and their families by Magsaysay.
The residents are going against big corporations. What can the government do? Ramon Ang “is very bold. He builds plants even without offtake and financial closing. We should have more of his kind,” said Jericho Petilla, secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE). So the wind blows again and more coal ash covers the streets of Lamao, Limay, Bataan.
*Names were changed for the safety of the people involved. This article was written with the help of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Kilusan Bataan, Federation of Lamao Concerned Citizens, Inc. (FLACCI), and Nuclear Free Bataan Movement (NFBM). Photos from Kilusan Bataan and NFBM. Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Advocacy Director of Dakila, an organization of artists creatively working towards social transformation. Dakila has been campaigning for human rights and climate justice since 2009. Renee is also a climate tracker for Adopt A Negotiator.