Batangas is a small and scrappy port city on the southern edge of Luzon, around 100 kilometres from the Philippines’ capital, Manila. The narrow coastal road is still strewn with sun-faded election posters, leftover from May’s vote, as it winds its way from the vast mega-mall at the centre of town to the outlying barangays – districts – that are built along the steep cliffs overlooking the Verde Island Passage.

One of those barangays, Simlong, is the unlikely epicentre of a battle for the soul of the Philippines’ economic development. Already in the shadow of the chimneys of two chemical facilities — one making plastic for packaging, the other a naptha cracking plant — the community has watched as a new patch of land is cleared to make way for a coal-fired power station, as national and regional politicians seesaw between the long-term necessity of ‘decarbonising’ the country’s growth, and embracing the short-term allure of cheap and dirty energy.

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July 16, 2016