“Restore our Earth.”
Such was the appeal of several churches in the coal-using province of Quezon to Philippine banks a week before the celebration of Earth Day on April 22.
The appeal was inscribed on tarpaulin banners which, despite its simple nature, echoed the earnestness of the church leaders in calling on the banks to cut their financial support to the coal industry.
In the Diocese of Lucena, 15 major parishes participated in the symbolic initiative, including Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Atimonan, Saint Buenaventure Parish in Mauban, Saint Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Pagbilao, and Saint John the Baptist Parish in Tiaong.
Fr. Warren Puno, director of the Ministry of Ecology of the Diocese of Lucena in Quezon, explained the thought process behind the action.
“We cannot gather on the streets or in the church’s halls to unite in prayer and action as many of the faithful do on Earth Day in normal circumstances, but that does not make addressing the climate crisis any less urgent. These banners we place at the front of our churches symbolize the church’s long-standing commitment to pursue ecological conversion and energy transformation to protect our common home. That would begin with moving away from coal,” Puno said.
Quezon has been dubbed by clean energy advocates such as the church and civil society-backed Withdraw from Coal (WFC) as the Philippines’ “coal capital”, mainly due to the presence of three coal-fired power plants with a total installed capacity of 2.195 gigawatts (GW) in the province.
As of December 2020, three more projects are in the pipeline, including the Atimonan One Energy (A1E) coal plant proposed by the power generation arm of the distribution giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco).
“If it were not for the banks and investors providing financial support to coal, our province would not have been tied down to decades of environmental degradation and health and livelihood problems,” stressed Puno.
The banner initiative was also joined by parishes in the Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental.
“Our beloved Negros takes pride in being called the renewable energy capital of the Philippines, but our heart goes to Quezon and all other communities in the Philippines suffering at the hand of coal proponents, especially since San Carlos is also the site of a proposed 300-(megawat) MW coal plant,” said San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza.
Alminaza is a convenor of WFC, which is currently conducting another assessment of Philippine banks’ coal exposure. The group is set to release an update to their Coal Divestment Scorecard, which would evaluate the banks’ role in increasing climate and environmental degradation from coal.
“We are still full of hope that the restoration of our common home is possible, and that we can unite together toward it. As corporate citizens, Philippine banks, too, must do their part swiftly and decisively by immediately restricting and eventually phasing out their financing for coal,” he said.