LAST Saturday afternoon we received a copy of a magazine, (or is it a book or just a hardbound of thick sheets of paper) where the narration of the evolution of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Binugao-Sirawan area in Davao City and Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur came into being written.  The power plant was built by the Aboitiz power conglomerate amidst apprehension of environmental degradation most feared to result to a major health hazard in the area. 

     The fear of course was not without basis. Those who were in the pack of those who were against the building of the plant were people with excellent professional backgrounds related to their advocacy to maintain an environment conducive to the health of the general population. They were those working for non-government organizations and some of them espousing a passionate personal crusade to make the air people breathe and the water they drink free of any alien matter that could compromise the health of the inhabitants of the world.

     For easy reference purposes, allow us to call it simply a book. It was given to us by our former boss, the indefatigable Manuel “Bobby” Orig who is now supposed to be enjoying his retirement years but instead forgoes the perks and remains very much active in doing things, this time not so much for his family but for society. Mr. Orig, or Bobby as most of his friends and former subordinates prefer to call him, was once the Aboitiz top man in its power distribution company in Davao City. When he retired from the company, he was tapped again to work in various executive capacities in many of its companies in Mindanao and Davao City. Today Bobby is a Director of Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc., an Aboitiz firm developing a bulk water supply plant for the Davao City Water District (DCWD). The new Aboitiz Group member will deliver in bulk processed surface water to the DCWD reservoirs which the latter will distribute to its consumers all over the city.

     The book is titled “Power, Peace, and Place: Why firms account for their action.” It is actually a documentation of the inputs of the members of the Davao Multi-Stakeholder Group on Energy Concerns or DMGENCO, a multi-stakeholder body that monitors and assesses the political, social, economic and environmental effects of the Aboitiz Power Coal-fired electric plant now proudly rising in the border barangays of Binugao in Davao City and in Inawayan, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur.

     The DMGENCO came about after the Mindanao business sector had realized during the years before 2012 that the power crisis that hit Mindanao over the years had stagnated the island’s economic growth. What with the annual, mostly summer season, occurrence of power interruptions with duration as long as twelve hours every day! And what with the daily stoppage of power service hitting the most industrialized areas in Mindanao like Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, Zamboanga City and Iligan City? As consequence those with capital and are willing to part their money to expand operation in Mindanao became instant hesitant investors. No, not because they fear so much the relatively volatile peace ans order condition in the island. Rather, they were more afraid of continuing power outages which they felt their real nemesis in bringing reasonable returns on their investments.

     Thus, after several formal and informal consultations among leading members of the business community, the academe, the professional groups and community leaders there metamorphosed the DMGENCO. Through the group’s initiatives people of various persuasions were brought to the table and their take on the proposed coal-fired power plant were drawn out for open but intelligent discussion. Making itself the platform for the collaborative exchange of ideas on issues attendant to the plant’s construction, the DMGENCO laid on the table the only two most critical options to take. That is, if the outages bedeviling Mindanao has to be addressed or let it linger but sacrificing the island’s economy and eventually the Mindanaoans’ welfare. In all the consultations done the DMGENCO had made them the most civil and fruitful with the help of an international NGO, International Alert, acting as some kind of a moderator.

     It was also at this stage of idea-seeking that there was common consensus among the stakeholders that in building a coal-fired power plant it was like having a bow and arrow shooting tournament. There is a shooter, a bow, an arrow, and a target; useless each without the other.  But in the quadruplicate affair, each has responsibilities to take. And there are certain parameters to attain a successful shoot that will benefit all the components – the stakeholders.

      Of course, according to my former boss, “the essence of the chronicling of the Coal plant’s journey in arriving at what it is today, is the realization that building it is twinned with the pervading belief that ‘while there is a widely-spread perception that the plant could pose environmental and health issues there is the reality that the plant is sorely needed to solve the crisis and advance the Mindanaoans’ economic stability and well-being’.” 

      With DMGENCO spearheading the efforts, a novel approach was eventually developed to gain the confidence of the various stakeholders. And the discussions that were initiated helped the Aboitiz Power in convincing the people that the corporation can be trusted to be proactive in “safeguarding their health and the integrity of the environment,” and subsequently the advancement of the economic condition of this southern Philippine island.

     Through this book (or whatever will be the material’s appropriate name) we will attempt to walk through the  coal plant’s (now Therma South, Inc.) journey and share our own insights on the matter in later columns after we shall have intelligently digested all the narratives.

     After all, at one time in our having been an employee of an Aboitiz firm, we once had made our own contribution in the plant’s journey bringing us to as far as similar plants in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, and in Toledo City in Cebu. 

     Our contribution may be small. But we know it was significant. 


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