A week before Earth Day, Churches in coal-affected provinces of Quezon and Negros urged Philippines banks to withdraw their financial support to the coal industry through simultaneously hanging banners calling on them to ‘Restore our Earth’ - a nod to the 2021 theme of the annual celebration.
In the Diocese of Lucena, 15 major parishes participated in the symbolic initiative, including Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Atimonan, Saint Buenaventure Parish in Mauban, Saint Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Pagbilao, and Saint John the Baptist Parish in Tiaong.
“We cannot gather on the streets or in the Church’s halls to unite in prayer and action as many of the faithful do on Earth Day in normal circumstances, but that does not make addressing the climate crisis any less urgent. These banners we place at the front of our Churches symbolize the Church’s long-standing commitment to pursue ecological conversion and energy transformation to protect our Common Home. That would begin with moving away from coal,” said Fr. Warren Puno, Director of the Ministry of Ecology of the Diocese of Lucena in Quezon.
Today, Quezon is dubbed by residents and clean energy advocates as the Philippines’ coal capital, with three coal-fired power plants with a total installed capacity of 2.195 GW currently operating in the province. As of December 2020, three more projects are in the pipeline, including the Atimonan One Energy (A1E) coal plant proposed by the power generation arm of the Manila Electric Company (MERALCO).
“If it were not for the banks and investors providing financial support to coal, our province would not have been tied down to decades of environmental degradation and health and livelihood problems,” added Puno.
Earth Day coincides with the Annual Stockholders Meeting (ASM) of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), which is among the banks found to have committed financial support to the A1E project, and happens a day before the ASM of BDO Unibank. According to research by the civil society and faith groups led initiative Withdraw from Coal (WFC), BPI and BDO are the banks with the highest exposure to coal, among fifteen other local banks financing coal projects and developers.
The initiative was also joined by parishes in the Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental.
“Our beloved Negros takes pride in being called the renewable energy capital of the Philippines, but our heart goes to Quezon and all other communities in the Philippines suffering at the hand of coal proponents, especially since San Carlos is also the site of a proposed 300 MW coal plant,” said San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza.
Alminaza is a convenor of WFC, which is currently conducting another assessment of Philippine banks’ coal exposure. The group is set to release an update to their Coal Divestment Scorecard ahead of the ASMs to assist BPI, BDO, and other banks in evaluating their role in increasing climate and environmental degradation from coal.
“We are still full of hope that the restoration of our Common Home is possible, and that we can unite together toward it. As corporate citizens, Philippine banks, too, must do their part swiftly and decisively by immediately restricting and eventually phasing out their financing for coal,” said Alminaza.
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