The regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Central Luzon has ordered SMC Consolidated Power Corp. (SMCCPC) to stop any activity inside its coal-fired power plant in Limay, Bataan in the wake of an ash spill that has reportedly caused several residents to fall ill.

It also directed the nearby Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) to "stop from dumping newly-generated bottom ash" in the area while the ash spill incident is being investigated.

The two directives, both dated Jan. 6, 2017, were issued by Regional Director Lormelyn Claudio of EMB Region 3, which is based in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

EMB, a line bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is responsible for the implementation of various environmental laws, rules and regulations, including Presidential Decree No. 1586 or the law establishing the Environmental Impact Assessment System that requires an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to ensure that a development project will not cause adverse environmental impacts.

In a Notice of Alleged Violation issued to SMCCPC, the EMB wanted the power firm to explain why the ECC for its Limay facility should not be revoked or cancelled due to the ash spill.

"Notice is hereby served in connection with the dumping of bottom ash at [SMCCPC's] facility in Lima, Bataan. This allegedly caused unmitigated spread of ash which affected the health conditions of the residents in the host community," the notice read.

The EMB is giving SMCCPC a period of 7 days from receipt of the notice to explain why it should not be penalized under P.D. 1586, and why its ECC should not be revoked or suspended.

"Similarly, you are hereby ordered to stop from further undertaking any activity while the matters are being investigated," the EMB told SMCCPC.

The bureau also ordered the company to attend the technical conference scheduled on Jan. 9 at the EMB Region 3 office in Pampanga.

"Failure to attend will qualify you to be considered in default and the case shall be resolved based in evidence on record," the EMB warned SMCCPC.

Meanwhile, the EMB said the latest order against PBR was based on the notice of violation it issued against the oil facility last Dec. 28 when the ash spill in Limay was first reported.

The EMB said it was inclined to issue a new order against PBR "considering the most recent reports and information on the alleged skin diseases caused by the dumping of bottom ash at [SMCCPC's] facility."

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

Petron Corp. operates the PBR, which is the largest integrated crude oil refinery and petrochemicals complex in the country. ###