Monday, July 31, 2017

The Semirara-San Jose energy connection

The island and the company

Semirara, a 5,118-hectare island is within the jurisdiction of Municipality of Caluya in Antique province, lies between mainland Mindoro and Panay. From San Jose (Occidental Mindoro), it would take about 4-5 hours by ferry boat.

The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation is the biggest producer of coal in the Philippines. Apart from coal, the once marine life-rich island has other mineral reserves that the company has the right to explore and mine. The whole Semirara island has about 824 thousand tons of silica, 1.2 billion tons of limestone, and 2.9 million tons of clay. The Municipality of Caluya’s poverty incidence in 2013 is pegged at 47% but on that same year, the mining company, in stark contrast, posted a P12.6 billion revenue for coal production.

With regards to the coal mining, the Department of Energy (DOE) granted the extension of the company’s Coal Operating Contract until July 14, 2027. The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation or simply Semirara, is part of the DMCI Holdings, Inc. Aside from coal mining, the group is operating power, property and nickel mining businesses. DMCI Holdings, Inc. has allotted P14.5 billion to Semirara for capital spending onwards. At present, the coal company is steadily increasing its capacity to a maximum of 16 million metric tons of coal to cope up with the approving prices and demand of the local market. This 2017 is also planned to be a year of updating the company’s operations and maintenance programs to improve efficiencies of its power plants. Therefore, there goes the proposed coal-fired power plant in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

Its reserve and power capacity

In November 2004, an independent technical review conducted by Minarco Asia Pty Ltd. It shows that in the Panian Pit is estimated to have 52 million MT of already available coal while there are still 210 MTs of in-situ (requiring an additional confirmatory drillings to show that the reserve is proven and recoverable) in the pit. Inside another pit, Himalian Pit, there is a potential 52 million MTs of in-situ coal inside it.

Two years later, in December 2006, consultants from Australia supervised the confirmatory drilling in Panian Pit and as per standards of Australia’s Joint Ore Reserve Committee or JORC, 62 million MTs and 6 million MTs of coal were categorized. The Panian Pit is the place where several workers died due to a landslide incident in July 2015.

On July 11, 1977, the Energy Development Board, precursor of the Department of Energy (DOE), awarded a 25- year Coal Operating Contract (COC) to a group of three private companies, incorporated as Semirara Coal Corporation or SCC and in 2004 it changed its name to Semirara Mining Corporation or SMA and later became the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation. The DOE is most likely to renew the coal extraction contract every time it expires, or at least that was the expectation of the mining firm.

Semirara is the only power producer in the Philippines that owns and mines its own fuel source which is coal. According to them, their whole operation can produce 8 million MTs of coal per annum. Reportedly, the expansion of the coal mining operations, which involves an estimated 10,000-hectare area, is already 5 to 7 KMs off the shore. The company boasted that it has an installed generating capacity of 600MW, with an additional 1,200MW in the pipeline. Occidental Mindoro to date has only a peak-hour demand of 19 MW of electricity.

Meeting the SP and the EC

The Provincial Board of Occidental Mindoro in its Facebook account reported that last June 16, 2017,  the so-called “unified leaders” (the Sato-Mendiola local political faction) had a meeting with some top brasses of the DMCI Power Corporation and the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation regarding the conglomerate’s proposed coal-fired power plant. Further, the provincial board stated that because of the 12.17% annual power growth demand of the province, the current power suppliers can no longer be enough for such a huge demand in the future.

The social media post which was quoted here in verbatim further states, “Three options for this proposal is presented. Option 1, to be constructed in mainland San Jose, Option 2 in Ilin Island while Option 3 is the Semirara Mine Mouth. Our leaders are taking into consideration the environmental impact and the like for this project. On the other hand, the geothermal plant being eyed in Naujan is not feasible and so the government is looking for other options to address the province’ current power situation.”  With the fragile island ecosystem of the island, the provincial board is bound to weighing matters in its legislative scales.

The members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) are aimed at increasing 20 MW diesel power plant of the Occidental Mindoro Consolidated Power Corporation (OMCPC) in the town of San Jose.

Weeks after the SP meeting top political leaders, according to sources, went to Semirara for an ocular inspection and reportedly fetched by the company’s private plane from San Jose to Semirara. No result was disclosed to public as of post time regarding the visit.

On July 8, 2017 on the other hand, same representatives from the DMCI Power Corporation oriented the Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO) Board about their company and later expressed their willingness and intent to participate in the Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in due time. The electric cooperative (EC) just listened to them and no assurances or whatever was given by its Board. OMECO reportedly eyeing for another independent power producer to join the bidding. This IPP is projected to establish a diesel-fired power plant in Mamburao and the project is anchored on the EC’s energy development plant for the province.

But prior to the two presentations in two different bodies, Mindoro’s electricity requirement is being supplied by the National Power Corp. (Napocor) through its missionary electrification and DMCI Power Corporation which is an affiliate of Semirara. DMCI Power Corporation provided power rentals for Napocor for some time until the OMCPC came in.

By 2018, the 25-year Energy Conversion Agreement (ECA) entered into by OMECO and Island Power Corp. (IPC) will finally expire, finally allowing more investors to invest in Occidental Mindoro. The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation is one of the prospects.

Coal : Dirty and mean

Coal is considered by the environmentalists as the dirtiest fuel on earth. Many countries in the world considered coal as fuel for global warming that is why many of the coal mines are banned in many parts of the globe. Philippines is host to 10 coal-fired plants and majority of which are located in Mindanao.

It is a nation-wide call of environmental groups to continuously campaign in convincing the government to shut down all or most of the plants and replace them with facilities that tap renewable energy. They insist “green energy” like solar, geothermal and wind over “dirty energy” like coal. According to Owen Migraso, executive director of Center for Environmental Concers (CEC), “The government should not pursue coal to generate electricity for industrialization. Technology is available in developed countries. There are technology transfer laws. The important thing to consider is how renewable energy will benefit the people.” According to an EC insider, solar is the only feasible renewable energy in Occidental Mindoro. 

Passive populace

Though the people of Occidental Mindoro is yet to be informed on the details of the project, vigilance is deemed by some local environmentalists, both in the government and the public sector, as a future course of action.

Occidental Mindoro in general, San Jose in particular, is not known to such active and massive pro-environmental issue-projection and mass actions since time in memoriam. It is a reality that any aggressive anti-environment project can easily exploit. 

(Photo: Business World)
References and resources:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Thunderous Boxing Night

Like what occurred in Brisbane, a boxing event can be a tourism knockout! Well, at least there’s something for us to look forward to.

Pacquiao and Ancajas

Oddly enough, the defeat of Manny Pacquiao against Jeff Horn overshadowed the victory of Jerwin Ancajas (27-1-1) over Teiru Kinoshita. Common people keep on talking about Pacquiao's loss but hardly talked about Ancajas' winning glory. Ancajas' first-rate performance against the Japanese to retain his IBF Super Flyweight championship belt at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia was remarkable. Ancajas won via 7th round TKO pounding the challenger's body sending him to the canvass like a crumpled bonbori lantern.

The Ancajas-Kinoshita duel was the co-main event of the Horn-Pacquiao last July 2. With the effort of one of Ancajas’ corner men, the home-grown boxer himself, Drian Francisco (29-4-1), the IBF champ will be coming over to grace another professional boxing fest here. Francisco and Ancajas are stable mates in Pacquaio’s MP Promotions. The former is two-time chief spar mate of the latter.

The Main Event

Billed as “Dagundong!”, the slug festival is presented by Knuckleheads Pro Boxing Fraternity. It will be held at Sablayan Astrodome on July 22, 2017 featuring the ex-Olympian Mark Anthony Barriga versus Joel Taduran in the main event. In 2012 London Olympics, Barriga lost to Kazakh fighter Birzhan Zhakypov by just a hairline, 17-16, in their round-of-16 light flyweight match. The referee slapped the then 19-year-old Barriga with a one point deduction in the third round for ducking (which is illegal in amateur boxing) the Kasakh and lost it by points.

But as a pro, Barriga bounced back. In his debut in July last year, he won a UD competing with Melvin Manangquil in Cebu City. He has never fought outside of the Philippines as a professional. His latest fight was held only June 4 at Dipolog City winning a TKO versus Marlou Sandoval. With just more than a month after his last ring appearance, Barriga will be again crossing the ropes here in our province. 

How about his opponent Joel Taduran? Well, with a total of 15 fights across his name, Taduran slightly has the experience. He already boxed outside the Philippines- Japan, China and Indonesia. His first fight abroad was at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo where he was frustrated by Toshiyuri Igarashi in May 7, 2016 via UD. In his last fight, he was TKOed by Junto Nakatani on April 16 this year at Messe Mie, Tsu, Mie, Japan.   

The province’s boxing capital

Boxing, even before the first two professional fights of Manny Pacquiao were held here in the mid-90s, is the most prominent sports among the youth in town. Promotion of boxing is embodied in Sablayan’s Executive-Legislative Agenda for 2016-2019. Sablayan is considered by officials from Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) and other international boxing personalities as the Boxing Mecca of Occidental Mindoro. Former Palawan governor Abraham Khalil “Baham” Mitra, the current chair of Games and Amusement Board (GAB), will also be coming over to supervise the event.

Sablayan Astrodome was the venue of the Drian Francisco- Pichitchai Twins Gym duel for the IBF Pacific Super Bantamweight championship. Francisco won via first round knockout over Thailand's Pichitchai Twins Gym to capture the interim title. Francisco, fighting in his hometown for the first time in his career, delivered a 3-punch combination that sent the Thai crushing to the canvas and was counted out at 33 seconds of the first round. The brawl took place in April 15, 2012.

The sensational fistfight between Jimmy Borbon and Jonard Postrano (2016-01-21) was also held at Sablayan Astrodome and hundreds of other events that cannot be accommodated here for lack of space. Sablayan too, is home to boxing trainers like Joe Francisco, a former Philippine #1 Philippine Junior Featherweight contender, and promoters like Cecilio Alvarez, Sr. of the JBoy Promotion.

Budding local pugilists

It is on record that the amateur boxers from Sablayan excel in many boxing tournaments like the Provincial Meet, the MIMAROPARAA, Palarong Pambansa, Batang Pinoy and those sponsored by DepEd, PSC and the LGU. The Municipal Government led by Mayor Eduardo B. Gadiano and SB Walter B. Marquez, a boxing promoter himself, also sponsored the event as they continue to support the town’s local boxers.

Aside from Drian Francisco, the current roster of professional boxers from Sablayan includes Rodynie Manzano Rafol and the two budding professional boxers in Darren Collamar and Lloyd Dulweras, to mention just three. The list should be long and the sport must not be neglected. The province’s boxing tradition must continue.

Sports tourism

Pacquiao’s nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez once said, “Boxing is always serious.” Promoting and developing sports tourism should be seriously looked into. Especially now that Boxing and other sports are considered attractions within the broader context of local tourism industry.


(Photo: From Drian Francisco's FB account)

Monday, July 10, 2017

SaltPhil Remembered

These are visible remains of the Salt Industry of the Philippines or SaltPhil.- the nearly immortal logs gallantly standing there defying the stormy sea through the ages. Greek thinker Pythagoras (born at around 570 BC) said, “Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea.”

I was nurtured by a salt maker just like all the children whose parents were pillars of early industrial salt-making in this part of Occidental Mindoro.  We are gypsum, a salt by-product, figuratively speaking.

Pillars for salt-making

SaltPhil was the biggest manufacturer of industrial salt in Southeast Asia and established on April 27, 1955 and was under the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas or Tabacalera. The company then rented an 800-hectare (some accounts says it is 1,200 has.) of coastal land from the Philippine Milling Company when Sugar Central closed down in the early 50s due to poor management. The vast land covered parts of Bubog and San Agustin, two seaside barrios of San Jose-Pandurucan. The method of salt production used by SaltPhil is the evaporation of salt brine by steam heat in large commercial evaporators called vacuum pans. This method, according to my current readings, yields a very high purity salt, fine in texture, and principally used in those applications requiring the highest quality grains.

But in the early-80s, the factory stopped its operation and many of its labourers, my father included, were laid off from work. I was told by my mother that the factory went bankrupt. The whole property was later purchased by Filipinas Aquaculture or AquaFil and turned it into big prawn hatchery. Only the main factory and parcels of land nearby were utilized by the new company while the other facilities or features elsewhere are now already abandoned including the well-founded poles shown in the picture above. The poles I used to stare from our window during an inclement weather while the angry Buslugan River is roaring from afar. We transferred from our former house near the seashore when it was nearly devastated by a storm surge way back in 1970.

What is the purpose of those poles, actually? Their main use is to hold cables where a machine-operated bucket is attached. The bucket, about two meters in width, is operated by a machinist at the elevated engine room in a place they call “Water Intake”. Its primary duty is to make sure that the opening of the saltwater to the pool is sustained. The Water Intake’s bucket pushes the volume of sands seaward thus keeping the mouth of the pool open. A bulldozer below the Water Intake operated by Antonio “Lagang” Aguilar complements the function of the bucket. The heavy volume of seawater is continuously pumped to dozens of giant salt ponds to the factory itself in Sitio Curanta, southern part of Barrio San Agustin.

The post- SaltPhil violence

By the time the new government of Corazon C. Aquino was installed by the EDSA People Power, the vast land owned by the AquaFil, the precursor of SaltPhil, was placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP by the new administration and the AquaFil years before it ended its operation.  The property was occupied later by the farmers from all over the place who joined the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) rallying for genuine agrarian reform. Group of former SaltPhil and AquaFil labourers also petitioned for land occupation but its individual members later joined the KMP. During the initial years of the Aquino presidency both insurgency-related and politically-motivated acts of violence in our province have increased. High profile cases of human rights violations have escalated especially in San Jose and Sablayan where militant farmer leaders were executed. CARP has polarized social groups in Occidental Mindoro costing many lives and limbs. Significant cases happened during massive military deployment at the AquaFil Estate where many of the farmer members of the KMP were detained and arrested. Law enforcers and security officers of the property were not spared and even targeted by Communist hit squads. Some of the farmer-leaders even joined the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) after being hunted by the police and Philippine Constabulary (PC) soldiers while the others struggled through peaceful means and critically engaged with the program implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR. This was an offshoot of the infightings among the national democratic forces then.

Fishponds and saltbeds like those of SaltPhil and Aquafil are by law exempted from land reform but that time they are idle and should be covered by CARP. Without the vigilance and collaborative spirit of the people around AquaFil, the fishpond estate would have to be out of the program’s coverage.  Today, majority of the landholdings were agriculturally productive after being legally acquired by the petitioners. The days of violence, like the SaltPhil and the AquaFil, are now gone.

Glory days

It is very fascinating to watch the tug boats towing around 6 barges coming from Sitio Curanta crossing the calm South China Sea. Tons of salts are being transported from the company’s private seaport to other part of the country. In 1958, SaltPhil had produced and exported to Manila 19,000 metric tons of refined salt.

It is near the main factory where the tenement houses of the top executives and employees of the factory and their families reside. The office of the labour union and the cooperative store shared the same building. The store at one time was managed by Mr. Perfecto Paguia supplying basic commodities needed by the employees and labourers both on cash and credit basis. Spirits and cigarettes are also available.

The tributary canals going to the salt ponds and beds are abundant of shrimps, crabs, prawns and all other edible crustaceans aside from milkfish, tilapia, paetan and the rest of the fishes effortlessly caught in saline marshes within the property. Finding such a free or affordable viand is easy way back then. The present day “food of the rich” can definitely be devoured upon by the working class those days.

The Divine Word College of San Jose, San Jose Pilot Elementary School and the Saint Joseph School catered the educational needs of the children of the officials of the firm. The resident employees lived inside the compound of the company together with their families.

A family Christmas Party is annually sponsored by the management. Dressed as Santa Claus, the resident manager distributes gifts, mostly toys, for their employees’ children. There were parlour games for the kids and songs and dances for their parents. The ladies are wearing their floral designed Momo dress and the gentlemen in their Macomber and Bestman pants. It was the only time of the year when we, the children of the labourers, could taste chocolates, apples and ice cream.

In the 60s, there was still no electricity in Barrio Bubog and Barrio San Agustin and only the facilities of the SaltPhil have electricity such as Check Point Number 1 (which is actually a guard house), the entry point to the factory. It was located just a few steps away from our new place in the barrio proper.

Since the Check Point is the only electrically-lighted area in the barrio, children of my age used to play near it at night especially during weekends. Once a month, the SaltPhil management offered a free movie for the residents from a portable projector and makeshift screen nailed into the electric post. I remember that the last movie I saw there was Anthony Mann’s 1964 film “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. After less than a decade, the SaltPhil, due to the prevailing political and economic changes that time, fell like the Roman Empire. Like the so-called “Last of the Romans”, the SaltPhil employees and labourers scattered like grains of salt in the crockpot of changing social realities of the era. Some of them even worked abroad.

Salts of the earth

My old man worked as a pump tender alternating with a fellow named Johnny Orozco in Pump House Number 1. The Pump House cloisters the six-cylinder Buda Engine made by the Buda Engine Company. It was founded in 1881 by George Chalender in Buda, Illinois, to make equipment for railways. The main bulk of my father’s job is to make sure that the engine is properly maintained adjusting the volume of the seawater to be conveyed to the ponds. Since his work does not require much mobility especially during graveyard shift, he has a lot of time to read pocketbooks. He is fond of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. When the officials of the company moved out, my father brought home volumes of Reader’s Digest’s compilation of short stories and other pocket books handed to him as mementos from one of his bosses, the company accountant Mr. Pedro Nillo, a voracious reader like my old man.

My father’s eldest brother, Pantaleon S. Novio, Jr., was one of the company’s trusted mechanics. From their ancestral home in 132 Capt. Cooper St. in the town proper, my father Manuel and my Papa Addie brought their families in Barrio Bubog where my uncle served as barangay captain for more than 20 years. My father was one of the officers of the company’s labour union. Aside from the poles, the long cemented water canal from the former site of Pump House Number 1 stayed even to this day. Just like the lessons left behind to their children by the two Novio siblings of SaltPhil.

The overall boss was Engr. Alfredo Yleaña, the company’s resident manager, former mechanical engineer of the Central Azucarera de Bais in Dumaguete but was born in Jaro, Iloilo.  Yleaña first arrived at SaltPhil in 1958 and initially became its plant supervisor where his superiors are all pure Spaniards. He later promoted as SalPhil’s resident manager and took the helm from the foreigners. Engr. Yleaña was a heavily-built man, around 6’ 2” feet in height and wearing thick eyeglasses. With his Ilonggo accent in a baritone voice, the resident manager expresses authoritative but kind instructions and orders. He was a generous and caring and always accommodating to those in need. He was an active official of the Knights of Columbus in San Jose. Engr. Alfredo Yleaña at 59 died on January 17, 1980 leaving his wife Mafalda and their children behind. One of his children, Grizelda, is a long-time friend of my aunt, Helen.

I was in high school when chess great Bobby Fischer is at the height of his popularity and fame. I and my classmates, Danilo Solomon, Winifredo Oracion, Roberto Paulmanal and the late Joel Boongaling were into chess. I never did win a game against any of them. Knowing about my inept skill in the board game, my father told me once that he’s going to introduce me to the expert wood pusher of SaltPhil, Engr. Leto E. Nicanor. But that meeting did not happen for reasons I do not know. My friends continued to butcher me over a chess game until I gave up playing.

Leto E. Nicanor is an electrical engineer and an alumnus of Mapua Institute of Technology. He, as a young bachelor, first set foot on the shores of SaltPhil on February 1965 and served as its shift engineer. He first stayed in the compound but later rented a boarding house in the town proper which is more or less ten kilometres away from the factory. Engr. Nicanor tied knots with Milagros Espinas, a teacher at Pilot Elementary School, in November 1965. After 14 years in SaltPhil, Engr. Nicanor resigned and worked as power plant superintendent of Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO) for a time. I don’t have a chance to introduce myself to him each time I watch him play chess in a barber shop of downtown San Jose or under the Talisay tree near the San Jose Water District Office. I have already lost my enthusiasm in playing chess, anyway.

Prospects of salt-making in Occidental Mindoro Today

Our province is bounded by saltwater making it one of the biggest salt-producing provinces in the country even today that the SaltPhil is long gone. At the height of the province’s production in 1990, Occidental Mindoro boasted of producing and supplying about 60,000MT of the 338,000MT or 18% of the country’s annual salt requirement. Today, while our province still provides salt in neighbouring provinces in Southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, only 12% national salt requirement or almost 75, 000 MT of 590,000 MT comes from Occidental Mindoro.

But today, Occidental Mindoro salt industry is already dwindling due to climatic factors and insufficient technology. The provincial government and the industry stakeholders should exert extra effort to keep it more vibrant and competitive by providing additional salt production technologies various programs that the local government failed to seriously look into. The industry needs to be revitalized though researches and innovations to re-boost the industry. Without it, the province’s salt industry will in the end drop its taste.  

A chemical practice

It is said that salt production is one of the oldest chemical practices performed by man and equally true, memoirs are brought about by chemical reaction processed by his aging brain.

(Photo: Pipay Novio)
 “Stories of 100 Families”, Rodolfo Meim Acebes