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Fishers group warns environmental catastrophe on UK oil and gas hunt near Spratly islands

By Ridley McHammer in London, United Kingdom and Gerry Albert Corpuz and Queen Shawn Dok in Manila

Fisherfolk activists belonging to the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday warned the Department of Energy (DoE) of a major environmental catastrophe in Palawan and neighbor Spratly islands once it allows the United Kingdom oil and gas exploration group to proceed off the waters of Palawan province near the disputed Kalayaan group of islands.

In a press statement Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap urged energy secretary Angelo Reyes to immediately cancel Geophysical Survey and Exploration Contract (GSEC) No.101 also known as Sercice Contract no.72 (SC72) was awarded to UK firm Forum Energy Plc. The exploration contract grants the London-based oil and gas company the right to conduct offshore mining that covers 880,000 hectares of marine waters located in the Red Bank basin in Palawan or 150 kilometers east of Spratlys group of islands.

“The project is heading us to a major environmental catastrophe in the making. Imagine 880,000 hectares of marine waters will be sacrificed anew for this extreme greed of powerful corporations for super profits at the expense of national patrimony, people’s rights to livelihood, and sound and sustainable environment,” Hicap lamented.

The Pamalakaya leader said the offshore mining activity might result to huge decline in the production of fishes and other marine products in the country. Hicap said offshore mining in the Visayan Sea and Palawan alone could lead to decline of year fish production by 600,000 metric tons or 20 percent decline annually, and it would affect the livelihood of not less than 100,000 fisherfolk and the 500,000 people largely dependent on fishing as means of livelihood.

Forum Energy said the service contract they obtained from DoE is within 200 nautical miles of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) based on Republic Act 9522, or the Philippine Archipelagic Baseline Law passed by Congress last year.

Citing the impacts of oil and gas exploration of Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. Ltd. (Japex) in Tanon Strait, a protected seascape separating the island provinces of Cebu and Negros, Pamalakaya said fish catch was drastically reduced by 67 to 75 percent from a high of 15-20 kilos average catch per day to 3-5 kilos of fish per day due to offshore mining.

In a fact finding mission conducted two years ago, Pamalakaya said fish skills occurred in several barangays in Cebu and Negros during and after the seismic surveys. The militant group also cited previous studies on the effect of offshore mining which said that an oil exploration activity generates 214,000 pounds of air pollution every year, 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide and 6 tons of sulfur dioxide and 5 tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons.

Pamalakaya said drilling operations could produce 1,500 metric tons to 2,000 metric tons of highly toxic water waste materials per drilling. The group said other toxic materials which oil and gas exploration could produce include cadmium which causes lung cancer, lead which causes gastrointestinal diseases, blood and kidney disorders, mental retardation and affects the nervous system, chromium which causes lung and liver cancers, kidney and other respiratory illnesses, and arsenic which causes lung, liver and skin cancers.

This is not the first time oil and gas exploration activity will be conducted in Reed Bank. The bank has been subject of numerous exploration hunts in the past under the Philippine contractual regime and Presidential Decree 87. The first petroleum contract in the area was awarded by the then Ministry of Energy in 1975.

Forum Energy holds a 70-percent stake in GSEC 101, which is the company’s principal asset, while Monte Oro Resources & Energy Inc. owns the rest. The government initially awarded GSEC 101 to Sterling Energy Plc in June 2002. Sterling drilled four wells at the southwest end of the structure. Two of the wells tested gas at rates of 3.6 million cubic feet and 3.2 million cubic feet per day, respectively. With reports from Akihira Tatchu

Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod had authored a resolution seeking an investigation on impacts of offshore mining in Visayan Sea

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Meralco, ERC asked: Don’t block refund of P 6.4 B overcharges

By TC Concepcion

Manila, Philippines-

soaring electricity rates will soon lead us to stop watching the late news

Leftwing activists belonging to the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday appealed to Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Lopez owned Manila Electric Company (Meralco) not to block the refund of P 6.4 billion to consumers representing overcharges of the utility firm in 2004 and 2007.

The P 6.4 B in overcharges was uncovered by the Commission on Audit (COA) based on the request of the ERC to find out if the utility firm overcharged its customers in 2004 and 2007. The government audit agency affirmed allegations by some sectors that there was overcharging of electricity rates during the period.

In a press statement, Pamalakaya vice-chairperson for Luzon Salvador France said ERC and Meralco officials should instead come into a gentleman’s agreement to fast track the refund to consumers, which he said was long overdue to Meralco’s million of consumers specifically in North and South of Luzon.

“Public interest lawfully and morally merits and dictates ERC and Meralco to correct their grave mistakes which sacrificed the collective interest of electric consumers from North and South of Luzon and the National Capital Region,” France said.

Pamalakaya said the fisherfolk along the coastal areas of Manila Bay, including NCR and the entire 27 municipal towns in Laguna Lake (Rizal and Laguna provinces) constitute the bulk of Meralco costumers and were part of the bigger based consuming bloc affected by overcharging or any sharp increase in electricity rates imposed by the utility firm.

The fisherfolk group estimate that around 28,000 fishing families in Cavite, Rizal and Laguna provinces were affected by Meralco’s overcharging in 2004 and 2007. Pamalakaya said the estimate is conservative and could be double or triple more.

Pamalakaya said the computation for refund should include interest accumulated for the use of P 6.4 billion and should be based on the current interest rate. The militant group said since Meralco had used the fund for operational expenses, interest from the use of people’s money representing overcharges should be included in the computation of the refund. #

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Only 3 presidential bets take up fishers’ issues—says group

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Bb. Joyce Cabral

Manila, Philippines-

A boy presented a relief stub during Pamalakaya and Anakpawis' relief operations in Talim Island, Rizal

Leftwing activists belonging to the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday said of the 9 presidential candidates, only three—Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Sen. Manny Villar, independent candidate Sen. Jamby Madrigal and Lakas-Kampi merger party bet Gilberto Teodoro have taken up the issues raised by small fisherfolk.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said Villar was more interested in providing production subsidies and relief to small fisherfolk hit by rising prices of petroleum products and seasonal disaster, Madrigal focused on the particular fight against the privatization and conversion of Manila Bay and offshore mining in the high seas, while Teodoro offered his help to fast track the cleanup of Manila Bay in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling and the pursuance of Philippine claim to the controversial Spratly Island.

“The rest of presidential wannabes have yet to issue any official policy statement how they would solve the multifaceted problems in Philippine fisheries, while the 3 presidential candidates need to concretize and be more comprehensive in addressing the sorry state of Filipino fisherfolk and the fisheries environment,” the Pamalakaya leader noted.

Hicap said his group wants to hear from Villar, Madrigal and Teodoro, while at the same time strongly encourages the rest of the presidential candidates—Liberal Party presidential bet Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, Partido ng Masang Pilipino standard bearer former President Joseph Estrada, independent bets Richard Gordon, Nicanor Perlas, Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas Movement and JC de los Reyes of the Kapatiran party.

Salvador France, Pamalakaya national vice-chair for his part, his group will stage the 2nd staging of Pamalakaya Fisherfolk Academy (PFA) next month, a presidential forum which aims to gather all presidential and vice presidential candidates in the May 2010 polls.

The forum which was first organized in the May 2007 elections for senatorial candidates, will ask all presidential candidates their respective stand and views on the fisherfolk electoral agenda which will be presented in the half-day forum.

The Pamalakaya official said among the doable demands their group will present to presidential candidates is the immediate and unconditional halt on all reclamation and conversion projects in Laguna Lake and Manila Bay, an indefinite freeze to demolition plans of fishing and urban poor communities along Manila Bay, Laguna Lake and other foreshore land areas across-the-country, the immediate recall of all offshore mining projects in Central and Western Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan seas, Northern Luzon and Bicol regions.

France said, Pamalakaya will also ask the presidential and vice-presidential candidates their position on proposals to abrogate the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) and the repeal of the Fisheries Code of 1998 and the approval of production subsidy law for fisheries that provide financial and material support to small fisherfolk to improve production and their standard of living.

Pamalakaya will also ask the commitment of presidential and vice presidential candidates that if they win, they will investigate highly questionable contracts and projects implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) including but not limited to the overpriced P 455 million ice making machine and the
P 7.14 billion agriculture funds which were missing according to the findings of the Commission on Audit dated December 2008.

Quoting the COA 2008 report, the Pamalakaya leader said a total of P 5.19 billion intended for farm-to-market road project were either missing or incomplete. France said the DA only spent P 1.3 billion or 38.99 percent of the total project allotment for 2008. Another big item, the P 1.3 billion fertilizer fund project under the GMA Rice Program was also bungled because local government units refused to participate in the implementation.

“The projects were reportedly incomplete. So the next question is where are the unspent funds? Are they really missing? Were they diverted or juggled to other highly questionable projects? What happen to the farm-to-market road project? Did it become farm to pocket (of GMA allies) road project?” asked
France.

Pamalakaya also took note COA’s other findings like printing of P 2.2 million fertilizer discount coupons which were rendered useless, the construction of mini-dams in Regions VIII, IX and XI built at a cost of
P 7.35 million but were rendered useless due to inferior construction, the construction of 11 Barangay Food Terminals worth P 1.55 million but only one was functional, and the remaining 10 were condemned due to operational deficiencies.

The same COA report described DA as notorious in purchasing equipment which are overpriced, not really needed or cannot be utilized or run by intended beneficiaries, adding that many of the equipment bought are unutilized, undelivered and now rusting in storage.

Pamalakaya said the earth shaking COA report should stop the national government and the agriculture department from buying 300 new ice-making machines to the amount of P 1.5 billion on top of the 98 ice-making machines which DA purchased in 2009 at an overpriced rate of P 4.6 million, 100 percent more of the prevailing industry price. #

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KMP nixes decline in rice output

By the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

Manila, Philippines-The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) raised that government is exaggerating the effects of “El Nino” to justify huge increases in rice imports, estimated to reach 3 million metric tons (MT) exceeding the previous limit of 2.4 million MT. Also, the group said that non-irrigation is a chronic problem in rice cultivation ever since and should not be totally blamed to “El Nino.” The group said that the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has only irrigated 1.4 million hectares or 46% of the total irrigable lands of 3.1 million has. in the country.

“Dry season is a classic problem of the peasants during farming. The problem is not totally the climate but majorly the absence of irrigation facilities and support to the farmers. NIA has negligible irrigation projects and some are just on paper, worse, some are being charged even their farms are not irrigated,” said Danilo Ramos, KMP Secretary-General in a press statement.

KMP said that though the country was faced with incessant typhoons, agricultural rice output in 2009 has no dramatic shortfall, 10.56 million MT from 10.93 million MT in 2008, a 362,000 MT fall. It is also higher than 2007 level of 10.56 million MT.

The group also said that 2009 farmgate price of rice based on Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) was pegged at P14.66 per kg, only a P0.74 or 5.32% increase from 2008 price of P13.92 per kg. This figures show that a significant decline did not occur as farmgate price only increased minimally compared to the increase of 2008 of P2.71 per kg or 24.17% from 2007 price of P11.21 per kg. The group said that it is evident that the monopsony of traders on bulk supply of rice depress farmgate prices to squeeze huge profits in selling rice.

“If there was a market-shaking decline, the farmgate prices should have increase appropriately. But government data showed that traders had the power to keep the buying price down, meaning there is no decline in supply,” said Ramos.

“The government is plainly portraying a doomsday picture of our rice supply to sway public opinion towards importation. The fundamentals are that farmers own no lands and traders use their political and economic power to depress farm products. Also, massive imports have empowered traders to further underprice palay from farmers,” Ramos said.

The group also said that the price of local rice should be at the range of P29.32 per kg, in contrast to Vietnam rice of P20.75 to P26.28 per kg ($1=P41.115) based on quotes of Vietnames exporters of $450 to $570 per MT on end of January 2010. While Thailand rice pegs at P21.21 to P27.25 per kg based on Int’l. Rice Research Institute (IRRI) prices of $460 to $591 per MT on December 2009.

“Imported rice already nears the price of local rice even before it reaches the country. When transport and other costs are to be added, it would surely jack up and the landing price would surely be more expensive than locally-produced rice, so definitely, the National Food Authority (NFA) imports rice not because it is cheaper, but to follow the government’s policy of liberalization and commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO),” said Ramos.

Moreover, the group said that import levels are eating up a big chunk of the share in the national consumption, thus, shattering food security and developing food dependency from outside sources. In 2008, import rice compose 16% of the consumed rice, a 26.8% increase from its 2007 share of 12.3%.

“NFA should purchase more of the local as it would help the country’s rice farmers, unlike importation where we already throw our dollars outside the economy, it even competes with the locally-produced. The government should pull back the effects of liberalization and focus on improving agriculture for food production and not for export. Without food security, people would definitely revolt to find one,” he said. #

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Gov’t no contingency plans on tuna job crisis, says fishers group

By Sugar Hicap and Billy Javier-Reyes in General Santos City
and Bb. Joyce Cabral and Gerry Albert Corpuz in Manila

Manila, Philippines- The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday lamented that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration failed to come up with a contingency plan on how to address the loss of 150,000 jobs among tuna fishermen in Far South Mindanao with the two-year tuna fishing ban executed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

“The government has no contingency plans to address “the Great Tuna Crisis” of 2010. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her economic advisers are well informed that this job crisis in the tuna industry is in the offing with the imposed two-year ban, but nothing has been done to arrest the issue of labor woes and loss of economic means for tuna fish workers” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

“150,000 tuna fishermen will lose their jobs, and around 750,000 people indirectly dependent on the country’s backward tuna fishing industry will also feel the economic disaster of this 2-year tuna ban. So what would be the next move of this government? Tell the poor tuna fishing people to wait for two years for the lifting of the ban?” the Pamalakaya leader added.

Big players in the tuna industry including corporations in canning of tuna said the closure of high seas for tuna fishing will render idle some 200 fishing boats for the next two years, predicting a 20 percent drop in the supply of tuna in the local and world markets. The tuna industry in General Santos is currently valued at $ 380 million based on annual export figures of 400 metric tons per year.

Hicap agreed with the observation raised by Martin Tan, president of Socsksargen Fishing Federation and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), that the closure of high seas for tuna ban, covering areas parallel to Palau, above Papua New Guinea and below Micronesia was not meant to preserve tuna stocks in West and Central Pacific, but to dislodge fishing companies from Third World countries from their tuna fishing grounds and allow tuna industrial fleets of European Union and Japan to takeover these tuna rich fishing areas.

Pamalakaya noted that in their respective free trade agreements with the Philippines, Japan for instance want to invade the Philippine waters for tuna fishing under the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), while EU also wants a share of the country’s territorial waters for tuna under the proposed RP-EU free trade pact.
The militant group said under Jpepa, the Philippine government is obliged to allow Japanese tuna factory ships to explore the country’s tuna resources in exchange for taxes derive from the value of harvested tuna from the country’s territorial waters.

Pamalakaya projected that the local tuna industry concentrated in General Santos port city stands to lose P18 billion in profits yearly once Japan tuna fishing fleets start their tuna exploration this year.

On the other hand, Japanese investors are expected to gain at least P43 billion annual profits in tuna trading, he said.

“The devastating impact of JPEPA to the local tuna industry includes the loss of 100,000 jobs provided by the local tuna fishing companies in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City and the Davao regions,” Pamalakaya said.

According to Pamalakaya, a single 3,000-gross ton Japanese factory ship is capable of harvesting 50,000 metric tons of tuna a year or 150 metric tons of tuna per day. Based on industry standards, a single factory ship could earn as much as $32.5 million in gross profits from the sale of skipjack tuna.

Pamalakaya said the bulk of the profit will come from the remaining 35 percent of the 50,000 metric ton tuna catch, which is $210 million. “A single medium size factory ship thus will earn $242.5 million a year, and since Japan at the very least, employs four factory ships in its regular tuna fishing expedition per country, we expect them to earn a total of $ 970 million or P43.5 B per year,” the group said.

At present the local tuna industry yearly produces 400,000 metric tons of tuna, with 15 percent of the production going to domestic market and 85 percent for exports.

The European Union accounts for 40 percent of the country’s fresh and canned tuna exports or roughly 64,000 metric tons per year. The rest of the exports are shipped to tuna markets of Japan and the United States..

Pamalakaya said the government should indefinitely suspend if not abrogate the Jpepa treaty with Japan if it wants the local tuna fishing industry to survive.

“The most logical and objective solution to current predicament of tuna fish workers in Southern Philippines is to abrogate Jpepa and pursue the nationalization of tuna fishing industry by investing finance capital and technology for the inward development of the tuna sector, and this will arrest the rising tide of job loss among tuna fish workers and tuna fishermen,” the group said. #

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KMU slaps Palace’s direct hand in layoff of 700 SLEX workers

Contributed to The Pamalakaya Times

No holiday in protesting Arroyo’s job massacres

Even the spirit of Christmas failed to put off the Arroyo government’s layoff plans, as it directed the sudden retrenchment of at least 700 Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) employees working in the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), according to Kilusang Mayo Uno.

KMU said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s directive to hasten the turnover of SLEX’s operations to Manila Toll Expressway Systems (MATES) is “clear proof of Arroyo’s itch for job massacres”

“With the Palace hand clearly jutting out of the mass layoff in SLEX, Arroyo has further earned the ire of Filipino workers. And with that, she will never enjoy a holiday break from workers’ condemnation and wrath,” said KMU Chairperson Elmer “Bong” Labog.

“Layoff victims, especially, have every right to make her Christmas an uneasy one. Protests will surely knock her out of the holiday mood,” he added.

North Harbor retrenchment

Labog said aside from the retrenchment of SLEX workers, at least 7,000 port workers and vendors in North Harbor in Manila face a “jobless New Year” as winning bidders take over the port terminal on Jan. 1, 2010.

“The layoffs in SLEX and North Harbor are fine examples of how privatization works as an anti-labor policy prescribed by foreign institutions like the World Bank,” said Labog.

“But history proves that privatization, which only benefits private corporations at the expense of workers, has been met with strong and united actions of workers, not only in our country but in many parts of the world.

“We urge SLEX and North Harbor workers to continue their fight for livelihood and unite with other workers in making this regime pay up for its crimes against the people,” he added.

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Port workers hit jobless New Year

Contributed to The Pamalakaya Times

Manila, Philippines- Facing a ‘jobless new year’ ahead of them, thousands of port workers and vendors in North Harbor in Manila staged a rally this morning in Mendiola to demand immediate government action on the looming wide-scale retrenchment as private firms take over the port.

The big rally led by the Alliance of Port/Transport Workers and Porters in North Harbor (APTWP-NH) demanded a clear-cut Terms of Reference which will ensure zero job cut and recognition of existing unions as Metro Pacific Investment Corp. and Harbor Centre Inc. take control of the port’s operations on Jan. 1, 2010.

“We urge the Arroyo regime to take immediate action on the looming massacre of jobs in the port area. And the best action that it can take is to spare workers from a ‘jobless New Year’ by pushing for the workers’ job security,” said Jake Azores, APTWP-NH president.

At least 7,000 port workers and vendors risk losing their livelihood, while hundreds of families living in the port area fear demolition of their homes due to the port’s privatization.

Azores said it is still unclear who will pay for the back wages of workers in the event layoff of workers is undertaken with less a month before the takeover, sowing discomfort among port workers in the midst of the yuletide season.

“If the winning bidders do not heed our demands for a clear-cut Terms of Reference, we would be facing the loneliest New Year in recent years as joblessness awaits us. The way big capitalists want port workers to start the year is simply unjust, even as we have been receiving the same depressed wages year after year,” said Azores.

“But like in previous mobilizations, we will prove that our collective strength is important in deciding on the course that privatization will take. The holiday season will not put our call for job security and union recognition to rest.

“We have worked in the port area for many years now. That is why we will not just give up on this, even if our struggle drags on,” he added.

Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson Elmer “Bong” Labog expressed full support to the port workers’ legitimate struggle, saying “they have every right to assert protection from the looming layoff.”

“If the Arroyo government is really sincere in promoting labor rights and welfare, it should not sit silently in the face of retrenchment of thousands of North Harbor workers. Its record, however, speaks of its brazen complicity with big capitalists in implementing mass layoffs,” said Labog.

“But the government and private corporations should be warned: port workers can shut down the port if their demands remain unheeded,” Labog added. #

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