By John Leo Algo
Climate justice organizations held a rally last week at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) in Makati calling on the bank and other major banks’ financing of coal-fired power plants in the country.
“The terribleness of coal is manifested in the dire plight of communities near coal facilities, and in the deteriorating state of our climate and environment, among many others,” said Fr. Angel Ace Cortez of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).
Cortez is part of the “Withdraw from Coal” campaign, a coalition of civil society and faith-based groups calling for the urgent and just divestment by major Philippine banks from fossil fuels, especially coal. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the climate crisis that has caused more extreme events such as stronger typhoons and droughts in the Philippines and around the world.
“People of all faiths and walks of life are being called to address this and care for the Earth and the poor and vulnerable, and BPI and other banks still funding coal have been given a responsibility unique to them: they must not turn a blind eye to the suffering coal has brought,” he said.
The action was joined by representatives from communities in Metro Manila and Fr. Warren Puno of Atimonan, Quezon, in which a coal plant project funded by BPI has become a concern among community members.
“Should the 1,200 MW coal project push through, the lives of both the residents of Atimonan today and their children yet to be born will be under threat,” he said.
Puno added that “coal is wicked; wherever it is placed, it kills the environment and life in it”. On behalf of the Atimonan residents present, he rejected the notion of Quezon becoming the coal capital of the Philippines. “We implore BPI to do the right thing by pulling out its support to Atimonan 1 Energy, and to all other coal projects it has dirtied its hands with,” he said.
In a press conference launching the campaign held just a day earlier, BPI was named with BDO and Metrobank as the top three banks fueling coal expansion in the last three years.
Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), stated that money has been the “stumbling block” hindering efforts to eliminate the health, environmental, and financial hazards of coal.
“Coal developers are unwilling to let go of their profits, and banks like BPI enable them with loans and financing options,” he said.
Arances added that these banks need to realize that “not only will their money be used to further the destruction of the world as we know it, but also, they are risking the money of their stockholders and depositors on bad loans once the world turns against coal”.
Referring to the BPI’s coal financing in Atimonan as a bad investment, he said that “if asked, BPI’s executives would surely not be able to deny the losses they have incurred with the years-long delay of the project’s implementation, of which there still is no end in sight.”
The “Withdraw from Coal” campaign demands for the country’s big banks to establish definite targets and timelines for transitioning their finances from coal to renewable energy. It also warned these institutions that they would engage their respective top stockholders and depositors to push them to limit coal finance and shift them instead to the development of more sustainable energy sources.