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Breath on hold

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“THERE IS no way we can succeed in this advocacy unless we get the private and the public sectors to work together for the common good, especially for the protection of our environment.”

Thus, the Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, prelate of Kalookan and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, keynoted the recent grand launch of the SUBLI 2023 environmental campaign for the protection and preservation of the Angeles City watershed. 

“Subli” a Kapampangan word for “return” stands for “Subli ing Upaya, Bie, at Lugud king Indung Gabun (Return the power, life and love to Mother Earth).” 

As an environmental movement, Subli came into being at the time David was auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of San Fernando and parish priest of the Pisamban Maragul – the city’s Holy Rosary Parish Church – over a decade ago. 

The call of Bishop Ambo resonated – with grimmer foreboding – but a few days after with news breaks on the environmental and health crises looming over San Simon, Pampanga. (Smoke smothers San Simon town, we bannered here last week).  

“Almost 30% of our barangay’s total population has health issues due to the heavy pollutions brought about by mostly Chinese-owned steel smelting and manufacturing plants,” revealed San Simon Association of Barangay Captains president and ex-officio councilor Randie Flores in a press briefing. 

Flores laid the responsibility for the grave environmental state of his barangay squarely on the plants of WanChiong Steel Corp., Real Steel Corp., Altima Empire Steel Corp., SKK Steel Corp, and Melters Steel Corp. located along the town’s industrial corridor on Quezon Road. Even prior to his assumption of the chairmanship of Barangay San Isidro, Flores claimed these smelting and steel manufacturing plants had already been the subject of complaints from residents not only of San Isidro, but of barangays Sta. Monica, San Pablo Proper, San Pablo Libutad, and Dela Paz as well.

Of particular notoriety, Flores noted Melters and WanChiong for “spewing thick smoke and harmful air pollutants” most often, more recently. 

How the pollution problem could last for long and even worsen to near-catastrophic impact could only be blamed on government, the San Simon LGU principally. 

There had been no dearth of public outcry from the local residents for as long as the problem persisted – starting off in the 1980s yet with the SKK Steel Corp. right beside the NLEX, if ageing memory still serves right. But actions, if any, so far taken by the LGU – and for that matter, the DENR – have been at best palliative, at worst simply ignored.

A tripartite team of the DENR, LGU, and barangay officials created during the time of the late Mayor Leonora Wong to undertake quarterly inspection of the plants has not been convened by her successor Abundio Punsalan, Jr. 

No, I cannot and will not dignify loose talks about the alleged propensity of probers finding personal profitability rather than probable cause after every investigation of the polluting plants.     

I find bitter irony though in what Simonians – to borrow a term used for the town residents by Sun-Star Pampanga – are wont to note in every discussion of their pollution predicament: The long-sitting chief of the Pampanga provincial environment and natural resources office is their townmate. 

NIMBY is not in this PENRO’s dictionary, most apparently. The apparent abdication of sworn duty, and the severance of fealty to his community as manifested in his absence on-scene and his utter silence over the issue made the Simonian heart resentful of their cabalen, most certainly.  

So, the Environmental Management Bureau-3 took the issue – “in the interest of the service and in view of the strict implementation of RA 8749 otherwise known as the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999” – and ordered air and wastewater sampling tests in the two specified steel and smelting plants on Jan. 25-27, the results expected within 72 hours from commencement of the tests. 

As of posting time – Jan. 30, the findings have not yet been publicized by the EMB. In the meanwhile, the suffering Simonians could only hold their breath. Literally. 

 

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