Guimaras spill victims to pursue P291M class suit

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ILOILO CITY—The lawyer of nearly 1,000 claimants for damages in the 2006 oil spill in Guimaras said his clients would pursue the P291-million class suit against Petron Corp. and the owner of the ill-fated cargo vessel even up to the Supreme Court.

“My clients want the respondents to be held responsible for the damage to their community caused by the oil spill and to be compensated for their losses,” Antonio Ligon, cocounsel of 967 claimants, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

The Manila-based Ligon, along with lawyer Romeo Portea, is representing the claimants in civil and criminal cases filed on June 29, 2009, against officials of Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. (SDMC).

The officials include Clemente Cancio, SDMC president; Khalid Al-Faddagh, Petron president; Nicasio Alcantara, Petron chief executive officer; and Norberto Aguro, captain of the MT Solar I.

Also named respondent in the civil case was the London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), an intergovernment organization that indemnifies victims of oil spills.

Reached for comment, the Petron corporate communication office said it would consult with its lawyers.

In the information filed before Guimaras Regional Trial Court on Feb. 13, 2012, the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office had recommended the filing of charges in the criminal complaint against the respondents for violation of Republic Act No. 9275 (Clean Water Act).

In one of the two civil cases, the claimants are demanding P286,413,847 in damages and legal fees. In the other case, 96 claimants are asking for P5.48 million in compensation for the cleanup of debris.

The MT Solar I sank off the coast of Guimaras on August 11, 2006, spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel it was carrying for Petron Corp. from Bataan to Zamboanga City.

The oil spill, considered the country’s worst maritime environmental disaster, caused massive destruction and damaged the province’s rich marine resources and severely affected its tourism industry and economy.

Petron and SDMC had repeatedly denied that the sinking of the tanker, which triggered the oil spill, was intentional.

The Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office had in 2007 dismissed a similar criminal complaint by the provincial government against Petron and SDMC.

“There is nothing on record, not even an allegation by the complainant, that the respondents intentionally sank the MT Solar I and spilled, leaked, dumped or discharged its bunker fuel cargo,” said provincial prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin in his resolution in 2007.

Ligon said his clients were also seeking compensation from the IOPCF.

The IOPCF paid a total of P908,120,203 to 22,437 claimants as compensation for economic losses and refund for cleanup expenses and preventive measures.

But the IOPCF had rejected nearly 133,000 other claims after it questioned the validity of the claims.

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