December 24, 2011
PASTORAL LETTER ON THE OUTSTANDING ISSUES ON GEOTHERMAL PROJECT
IN THE DIOCESE OF SORSOGON
(To be read on December 24, 2011, last day of Misa de Gallo)
“THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S AND ALL IT CONTAINS” (Ps. 24:1)
Greeting of Peace!
The tragedy in Cagayan de Oro area makes me tremble to my knees, with the growing death toll and immeasurable damage on the people and their lives, and left me no option but to think, reflect and pray – had there been enough trees and slowed the massive land conversion for real estate developments, such catastrophe could have never happened. Should the people always bear the brunt of “development”?
Pope Benedict XVI clearly stated in his address to the Seventh Symposium on Religion, Science, and the Environment: “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family.”
The stand of the church against the geothermal project must be viewed on the following perspectives:
- We are duty bound to emphasize the Biblical teaching in relation to the ecological issue, “the human person, made in the image of God, is superior to all other earthly creatures, which in turn should be used responsibly.” Thus man should work towards the harmony of man and nature, not the utter destruction of the latter. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us all, “God’s creation is one and it is good. Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation, and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.”
- The Catholic Social Teachings of the Church echoed the rich tradition of the Church from the time St. Francis of Assisi (1225) in his famous Canticle of the Sun, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), and the Psalmists of the old. I would like to emphatically reiterate Pope John Paul II Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1988), “We must also mention a greater realization of the limits of available resources, and of the need to respect the integrity and the cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development, rather than sacrificing them to certain demagogic ideas about the latter.
The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate – animals, plants, the natural elements – simply as one wishes, according to one’s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.
The second consideration is based on the realization – which is perhaps more urgent – that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their activity not only for the present generation but above all for the generations to come.
The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.
Hence, the Church’s stand for the environment does not mean she (Church) is against development but rather she is for the sustainability of the earth and all that dwells therein.
- Lastly, the entire economy of salvation emphasizes that the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ and his teachings firmly testify to the value of nature: Nothing that exists in this world is outside the divine plan of Creation and Redemption. The Redeemer is the Creator, and if we do not proclaim God in his full grandeur – as Creator and as Redeemer – we also diminish the value of the Redemption. Such understanding must lead us to make a bold stand for the protection of the cosmos so as to effect the salvation intended by God for humanity.
- The BACMAN-EDC Geothermal operation in the province of Sorsogon, according to the affected communities, caused irreparable damage to the people, community and environment. Their research substantiated their claim of negative impacts such as decline in their agricultural yields, occurrence of skin diseases in the children, contamination of the Cawayan River and Foul sulfuric smell in particular areas.
- The threat of SKI geothermal project in the five towns (Bulusan-Irosin-Juban-Barcelona-Casiguran) in Sorsogon reverberate same apprehensions of duplicating the negative impacts of geothermal, sadly to the most important areas of the province. The target areas are known to be agricultural with vast water reserves, tourist destinations for its hot and fresh water resorts, the last rainforest frontier in the province, and particularly the rice basket of Sorsogon. To illustrate:
- Water and Tourism. It is a public knowledge that geothermal operation is directly dependent on water. It has been proven that areas of geothermal operations exhibited decline in the water level thus affected the agricultural production. More so with the water-driven tourist destinations (hot and cold resorts), it will also be affected by the geothermal operations. It will kill the tourism based-economy and displace the people.
- Health and Pollution. It is also part of the any geologic activity that heavy metals are released in the open environment, Arsenic and Mercury to cite a few. Silica is also known to be used in the drilling. The topographical nature of Bulusan, its height and vast water reserves, poisoning and related health hazards can never be removed from the equation of safety of the people especially the health. The province has a record of having heavy rains throughout the year, thus pollutants will easily be carried by the current of water from the mountain to the body of water in the lowland areas especially the communities.
- Seismicity. The target source of thermal energy is an active volcano and based on the geologic studies, there are towns at risk or even within the old crater of Mt. Bulusan, the town of Irosin. Throughout the year, the volcano has been erupting. Geothermal operation as such with its induced seismicity could lead to a catastrophic destruction as recorded in New Zealand.
- Agriculture-based Economy. The target towns especially Irosin which is the rice granary of the province are agricultural. The lives of the people are totally dependent on it, thus decline of water supply will definitely affect the productions. It has been proven in the Tiwi and Laguna (geothermal in the community) experiences that the Hydro sulphide emissions from the plant reduces the output or agricultural yields. It will bring more poverty as the people will be displaced economically.
- Last Forest Frontier. Sorsogon lies within the typhoon belt of the region. It will be of greater disadvantage for the people if the remaining rainforest will be destroyed by the geothermal operation. Definitely, with the fumes and noise from the geothermal plant, excluding its toxic waste, the rich biodiversity in the Mt. Bulusan will vanish or be affected.
Needless to say, the negative impacts of the geothermal project far outweigh its supposed gains, be it at the national or local level. The geothermal project will bring further poverty to the province, environmental destruction and constant threat of catastrophic malady.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let it be our commitment that we will work together for environmental conservation and protection. As Pope Benedict stressed “earthly life and eternal life, Creation and Redemption, are not only linked, but are inseparable.” As St. Paul says, “In Christ, we have become new creatures, but through the redemptive process, we are obliged to take part in God’s renewing the face of the earth.”
May Christ bring serenity and love in your family.
MOST REV. ARTURO M. BASTES, SVD, D.D.
BISHOP OF SORSOGON