Legarda Demands Transparency from SMPC Amidst Covid 19 CasesApril 22, 2020
Semirara Island is the site of Antique’s first four COVID 19 positive cases, all of which are within the continuing operations of Semirara Mining and Power Corporation. To date, seven ships have reportedly already been inspected by quarantine, customs and immigration officials in Semirara within the quarantine period from March 15.
As early as January, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda of the lone district of Antique recommended the stoppage of Chinese ships coming into Antique to load coal bound for China as this may pose health risks which the province can not handle. She is also demanding to know the legal basis of the entry of these vessels during lockdown.
In a series of tweets, Legarda stated that “Semirara Mining and Power Corporation must explain the presence of Chinese vessels in the island. I raised this as early as January, citing immigration, quarantine, health concerns of the people.”
She also called on Semirara Mining and Power to show its capacity to address the threat the pandemic poses on the company employees, the rest of the barangay and municipal residents and the whole of Antique.
On March 14, 2020, Secretary Cusi issued a Memorandum ordering the unrestricted importation and domestic transportation of fuel such as diesel, fuel oil natural gas, coal and lubricants. “While the coal operations in power and mines are ongoing during lockdown, are the Chinese vessels allowed? Do they undergo immigration, quarantine, stringent health protocols?”, she followed through.
As such, Legarda is asking if the export of coal that has continued since the Memoranda from the Executive Secretary and the Secretary of the DOE constitutes an exception to the restrictions being imposed due to the pandemic. The provincial government issued a lockdown order on March 22. “The export of coal from Semirara to the Chinese at this time, that’s not an essential industry. So why the need for Chinese vessels? This important question begs for an answer. The welfare of my people is paramount.” she added.
She is further asking for other information relevant to the health and welfare of the people of Caluya, since Covid 19 opened up the need for heightened transparency.
“Are the poor people of Semirara Island and the whole Caluya municipality reaping the benefits of hundreds of millions due them under the law? Do they have 24/7 electricity? Is it free, or subsidized? Some very basic questions needing answers for the benefit of Antiquenos.”
“I cannot reassure my constituents that all measures taken are sufficient until I have all the information I need from the company. Even the local governments are not clear on the protocols they follow. Both the national government and provincial government directives did not exempt coal exports from the restrictions. SMDC needs to show their legal basis for the continuation of these exports to show they are not in violation of these restrictions.” she added.
The company has not answered her calls nor replied to her queries as of presstime.