Environment Secretary Gina Lopez on Wednesday expressed her willingness to facilitate soonest the issuance of a permit that would allow Petron Corp. to transfer the ash stockpile released from its refinery to a cement plant also located within the Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) complex in Limay town.

Residents have been complaining of the volume of ash coming from the sprawling refinery complex that caused some of them to fall ill, prompting the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), a line bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to issue notices of violation against PBR and SMC Consolidated Power Corp. (SMCCPC).

Both Petron and SMCCPC are subsidiaries of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), one of the country's most diversified and biggest conglomerates.

"I will ask [SMC president] Ramon Ang to submit an application to transport the ash, so that we can process it immediately,” Lopez told residents during a dialogue.

Ang reportedly said that Petron would gladly move the deposits of what he said was lime powder, not ash, to a plant within the PBR for use as raw material in manufacturing cement. He said this would address the problem of dust complained by residents.

Lopez said she would exert all effort to ensure that the PBR and SMCCPC "will comply with environmental laws and not cause people to suffer."

“I am sure that Mr. Ang would not do something that would jeopardize a billion-dollar operation. I commit and make sure that you (the community) would be okay,” Lopez assured Limay residents.

She said the DENR would also coordinate with the Department of Health regarding the medical conditions reported by residents.

The EMB, in an order dated January 9, directed SMCCPC to explain why the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for its Limay facility should not be revoked or cancelled due to the ash spill. The company has until January 13 to submit its reply.

Also on January 9, the EMB issued a separate order to PBR to "stop from dumping newly-generated bottom ash" in the area while the ash spill incident is being investigated.

Meanwhile, EMB Acting Director Jacqueline Caancan said the bureau would have to make sure the ash being released from the PBR is not toxic.

“If found non-hazardous, the materials could be dumped in a sanitary landfill or allowed to be disposed of through other equally safe means," Caancan said.

"Otherwise, the company would have to secure a permit to transport from the EMB," she added. ###