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Distilling the Issues in VMC Distillery (Part 1)

September 7, 2021

Victorias Milling Company is an institution in the sugar industry. Established in 1919, it is the first sugar mill in Negros, and second in the Philippines, to establish a sugar refinery in 1928.

VMC is the second sugar mill constructed by Don Miguel J. Ossorio. The first was the North Negros Sugar Company (Nonsuco) in Manapla in 1917. In 1928, Nonsuco became the first sugar mill in Negros to operate an alcohol distillery.

After World War II, Nonsuco ceased operations due to damages incurred during the war. But the old site of the mill was later converted into an alcohol distillery by VMC.

The present operations of VMC’s distillery in Brgy. Purisima, Manapla has drawn flak from residents, including former employees and farm workers.

Issues hurled against the distillery range from environmental degradation, reckless endangerment of nearby residents, land-grabbing and eviction of agrarian reform beneficiaries, and lack of pertinent business documents and permits.

In an effort to shed more light on the issues, Negros Daily Bulletin recently interviewed concerned stakeholders who are complaining against the operations of VMC’s distillery.

These are former VMC employee Randy Bacaron, resident Ronald Deocadez, long-time resident and environmentalist Joemarie Almogia, and 71-year old Dolores Managaytay, Vice-Chairman of the 105 agrarian reform beneficiaries to whom the contested 106 hectares VMC landholding was awarded by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

NDB also sought the side of VMC.

This marks the first time that the company issued a public statement on the controversy.

In a deviation from traditional feature presentation, NDB will paraphrase the direct statements, translated from the vernacular, of the stakeholders and, at the end of their statements on every issue, NDB will present VMC’s stand.

Pollution and Reckless Endangerment from Methane Gas

Randy Bacaron:

I used to work at the distillery. I resigned because my children kept complaining about the foul smell coming from the distillery. If my children get sick from the pollution, my salary won’t be enough for their medication. That’s why I quit my work and vowed to fight and protect my family and our community from the distillery’s pollution.

Residents of Brgy. Purisima in Manapla, Negros Occidental complain against alleged pollution from the VMC distillery and call on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to stop its operation.*

VMC also coal, despite the coal-free policy of the province. Thus, we call on Bishop Gerry Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos City to help us in our fight against coal.

The distillery produces methane gas, which is highly flammable. The methane tanks are situated near the coal storage, which also emits heat. It will take only a small spark to set off a methane gas explosion, similar to what happened recently in Beirut, Lebanon.

The odor from the gas hurts our lungs. We also face every day the danger of a gas explosion which will destroy our community.

The DENR-EMB-Region VI analysis result states that the standard level of ammonia should be only 900 units. VMC’s ammonia discharge reaches 3,846 units.

In 2020 and 2021, we recorded on video the fish kills in our river due to the ammonia discharge. So instead of dumping the slop and waste with ammonia to the rivers, VMC resorted to discharging the slop with very high levels of ammonia in nearby farms in Manapla, Cadiz and Victorias.

The slop from these discharges in the cane farms have high levels of ammonia, which are flammable. The ammonia has also seeped into the artesian wells of residents in the farms, making the water unsafe for drinking and unsuitable even for washing clothes.

Joemarie Almogia:

I am a volunteer environmentalist working with an NGO. The product of the distillery produces a very foul smell which damages our health and will eventually kill us.

Moreover, the distillery discharges its waste into the river, and the waste is carried into the sea, affecting our ecosystem and the health of our people.

We have approached different government agencies for help in our fight against the distillery’s pollution, but they have not taken any action.

We call on the government to implement all the anti-pollution laws and, if VMC is found guilty of violating these laws, the VMC distillery should be ordered closed.

VMC Statement:

VMC has regularly and consistently budgeted and spent on capex to address environmental concerns, particularly on the reported foul odor around the distillery since early 2020.

VMC has invested in modern structures and technological processes to eliminate odor. The most recent one is the installation of an Anaerobic Digester to lessen the presence of odor-causing bacteria in the slops by 60-70% and converting it to biogas; an Automatic Flaring System to eliminate odor-causing gases; and improvements in wastewater treatment methods at the aeration ponds, such as filtration, aeration and dosing of enzymes to counteract the odor-causing chemical reaction in the digesters.

Additional units of aspirating surface aerators in the Aeration Ponds to help eliminate odor were also installed.

The distillery is covered with the proper Environment Compliant Certificate (ECC) issued by the DENR/EMB for the operation of its vacuum distillation, dehydrator and irrigation ponds.

On top of that, VMC has also been conducting tree-planting activities in areas surrounding the industrial and natural polishing lagoons and aeration ponds to serve as natural air purifiers.

It also helped establish the multi-partite monitoring team (MMT) with the LGUs of Manapla and Cadiz in 2020 involving government officials, environmental agencies, health experts and members of the communities to work hand-in-hand in preserving the environment.

While this is no longer a requirement by the EMB, VMC believes this will set up a proper venue for community members to raise and resolve issues or complaints immediately with the representative government officials and agencies. The company has also been getting positive feedback from residents of Brgy Purisima for its efforts in resolving the odor issue.

VMC remains committed to helping protect the environment and create value to the communities where it operates.

With this, the invitation remains open to media who wish to come and visit the distillery to see for themselves the improvements that the company has implemented.* (Butch Bacaoco)

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