Cassava

Reeling from criticisms from environment groups, the Alcantara and Sons Consolidated Resources Inc. (Alsons Corp.) is now trying a new tack in pushing for the construction of a P2.1-billion bioethanol plant in this Northern Mindanao capital city.

Saying that the city will gain from the operation of the bioethanol plant, Alsons is banking on the use of a zero-waste technology to make the proposed bioethanol plant acceptable to environmental groups here.

“We will be using ‘green’ technology in our plant,” said Alsons Corp.’s senior executive vice president Tirso  Santillan Jr. during the “Tell the Public on Bioethanol” forum held at the Archbishop Patrick Cronin Hall in the San Agustin Metropolitan Cathedral compound recently.

Santillan promised that his company will strictly adhere to and follow standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resourves in the daily operation of the plant, such as using air-pollution control devices and recycling wastewater so that none will be disposed of into the nearby Munigi River that connects to the Class A Cagayan de Oro River.

?To maintain the integrity of the Munigi River as well as the Cagayan de Oro River, Santillan said Alsons will not dump any wastewater into the river,  and  that its solid waste  from cassava will be recycled and used as fuel additive to coal for the plant’s boiler.

“Also, carbon dioxide will be ‘captured’ and processed to be sold for industrial and softdrink companies,” he said.

But Datu Kuloba from Barangay Bayanga doubted Santillan’s claims.

Kuloba, a Higaunon, said in the vernacular: “Will they really fulfill their promises? Because if problem arises it would be difficult to close the plant because they have spent so much.”

Engineer Greg Macabodbod also said it is easier for a big company like Alsons to just pay penalties to the government than follow and obey the rules of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“It’s now common practice among big companies to build a plant that do not really adhere to the standards imposed by the government in protecting the environment, and they will just pay the penalties rather than not push through with their projects,” Macabodbod said.

Barangay Nazareth councilor Pepe Abrogar raised the danger of Cagayan de Oro River becoming another Pasig River once the P2.1-billion bioethanol plant project pushes through.

Abrogar said if Malacañang has not been able to prevent the Pasig River’s degradation, it being located on the bank of that river, how much more this city government. I can’t prevent Alsons from dumping its waste into the Cagayan de Oro River as the proposed plant will be located some kilometers away in the hinterland parts of the city, he added.

He echoed environmentalists’ contention that the bioethanol plant be located in the Phividec area in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.

But Santillan countered that Barangay Bayanga in Cagayan de Oro is the most suitable location for the plant as it is very near the source of raw materials—cassava.

“Water is also free as they can just siphon whatever they need from the Munigi and Cagayan de Oro Rivers,” said a forum participant.

Alsons executives said the plant would need at least 10,000 hectares of land planted to cassava to supply its daily need.

But Monsignor Tex Legitimas this will open the floodgates to land conversions. “And if this happens, we will have cassava for breakfast, bolanghoy for lunch and binggala for dinner,” he said, prompting laughter from the participants. Bolanghoy and binggala are also Cebuano words for cassava, aside from kamoteng kahoy.

He also raised concern that this might prompt farmers to abandon cultivating rice and corn in favor of cassava and thereby causing problem in food security.

Despite the promises of using “green” technology, most of the participants were not convinced by Alson’s promises.

This prompted Santillan to say that if the people will not accept the project, Alsons will not insist. “If they don’t like it, we cannot do anything about it,” he said.

To questions if he knows of any company in the country that uses zero-waste technology, Santillan responded in the negative.

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