Church wants Peter Paul PHL operation in Sorsogon stopped

SORSOGON CITY—The Catholic Church is again calling for Peter Paul Philippine Corp. (PPPC) to stop the operation of its coconut-processing plant here due to another “string of fish poisoning incidents” believed to be caused by the company’s contamination of fishponds along the river that extends to Sorsogon Bay.

Fr. Bong Imperial, officer in charge of the Diocese of Sorsogon’s media office, said in a statement that several “fish kill” incidents have already taken place since the company started operations in the area.

The first incidence of fish poisoning happened during its initial but full operations, which nearly covered a year, he said. Within this period, the company operated without having met proper requirements, which included permits to do business, building and site construction, set-up of its wastewater-treatment facility, and effluence disposal.

Obligations mandated by law were ignored, Father Imperial said. More important no consultation with stakeholders was conducted, especially with fishpond owners and residents of barangay Cabid-an, where the coconut-processing plant is located and where the river cuts through before it winds up in Sorsogon Bay.

The alarming damage to the environment pushed the Church to join the Cabid-an Fisherfolks Association and residents to call for the plant’s lockdown, he said. The water study conducted by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 5 found out toxicity in the plant effluence, he said.

Mayor Sally A. Lee issued a cease-and-desist order in August to temporarily stop PPPC operations and close its plant for violating city ordinances and national laws.

The order stated the company may resume operations only after having made its wastewater-treatment system working, in accordance with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) waste standard, and after having secured waste-water discharge permit and permit to operate from the EMB, and building and business permits from the city government.

In effect, PPPC doubled the time to comply with the requirements set by the city government, Father Imperial said. Lee issued the company a temporary permit to operate after nearly a month from the date of closure, pending results of tests on wastewater facilities.

“Unfortunately, another series of fish kill happened within the three-month period to temporarily operate,” the priest said. “The direct impact was felt by the river and fishponds that are tapping it for water. Residents consume and sell fish caught in the river.”

As a result, a monitoring team was created, in which the Church plays an integral part, Father Imperial said. The group keeps an eye on the impact of effluence on the environment and has the company accountable for the damage brought by its operations to the river, fisherfolk and residents.

“They have been telling the media that the issue was resolved,” he said. “But the problem continues. They are operating and throwing their waste into the river.”

Several days ago, another fish poisoning took place by the river, killing fish and displacing fish growers from their flats, Father Imperial said.

The company, buying mature whole coconuts, may also further the dislocation of farmers engaged in copra (toasted coconut meat) production, the priest said.

Since the number of workers involved in producing copra will significantly reduce as a result of the whole coconut trading, landlords will have the chance to privately concentrate lands in their hands, as farmers flee to cities to look for opportunities, he said.

Sorsogon has 50,000 coconut-dependent farmers, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Sorsogon Officer in Charge Lourdes Matizano said.

The company, which pays plant workers, outsourced from local labor agencies, 25 cents per whole coconut processed, dispatches the country’s largest volume in coco-water export.

From January to October last year, 15,296,470 liters of coco water were shipped, which accounted for $15,958,664 freight on board, PCA main office statistics said.

Giant food and beverages companies like San Miguel Corp. and Asia Brewery are PPPC’s local clients, Father Imperial said.

PPPC, formerly only a candy company, originated in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, in 1919. On June 29, 1946, Peter Paul Philippine Corp. was established in Candelaria, Quezon. In 1962 majority of the company interest was sold to a group of Filipino stakeholders.

As of now, the monitoring team is insisting that the EMB conduct the effluence test after the Sorsogon plant wastewater facilities were installed, Father Imperial said. If the test has already been done, the EMB is taking too long to disclose the result, he said.

Armando Angeles, PPPC’s Sorsogon plant purchasing manager, said the company was issued a permit to operate from October 2013 to August 2014.

The plant, located in a 10-hectare site, is being sabotaged, said Christian Esquierra, PPPC’s wastewater support public information officer. He said five incidents of pipe slashing by outsiders, which caused leaks, were reported by the company’s engineering department.

Esquierra said the company is authorized to operate by the DENR, and only the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources can establish if the fish really died of plant effluence.

The article is published at Business Mirror on November 30, 2013.

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