Lawyers hit ‘slow’ gov’t response to oil spill
A group of 91 lawyers condemned the supposed “lackluster response” of the government in addressing the oil spill from a fuel tanker that sank off Oriental Mindoro province on Feb. 28.
“We urge the government to take swift and decisive action to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy, and balanced ecology is upheld and protected for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos,” the lawyers said in a joint statement on Monday.
Among the lawyers who signed the statement were Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Antonio La Viña, Grizelda Mayo-Anda and Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno—all known for their work in environment- and human rights-related cases. They noted that it was only after the Senate inquiry last week that “critical details finally came to light two weeks after the tragedy struck.”
They decried the lack of permits from the shipowner, RDC Reield Marine Services Inc., and the lack of clear coordination among the government agencies supposed to be responding to the disaster.
MT Princess Empress, which carried 800,000 liters of industrial fuel, sank in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro due to engine trouble. The vessel was located by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) off Pola town on Tuesday.
The accident led to an oil spill, where slick reached the coastlines of Oriental Mindoro, Palawan and Antique, moving further north toward Batangas.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that as of Tuesday, 31,469 families (148,382 people) from 119 barangays in Oriental Mindoro, eight in Palawan and four in Antique were affected by the oil spill.
“It’s time we demand accountability from PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) and Marina (Maritime Industry Authority), which allowed the ship to sail without a proper permit,” said Joel Jabal, former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Oriental Mindoro chapter, in a Facebook post.
Jabal, one of the signatories, said the charterer would be “equally liable as the shipowner.”
The lawyers chided the government for providing incomplete information on the cargo owner and the type of industrial oil carried by the vessel, and the impact of contamination in waters and coastlines reached by the slick.
They also criticized the “inconsistent statements from government agencies and the shipowner concerning the legality of the tanker’s operations in relation to the amendment of the latter’s certificate of public convenience, and the state of the tanker, being new or a rebuilt scrap.”
Describing the tragedy as “a disaster of national and international proportions,” the lawyers called on President Marcos to take immediate action and declare a state of national calamity in the affected areas to provide necessary relief and assistance to affected communities.
“Immediate action is [needed] to thoroughly assess the impact area and contain the oil spill. Likewise, whole-of-nation actions are needed to address the urgent needs of affected communities, including providing adequate compensation, short-term and long-term health care, and rehabilitation measures,” the lawyers said.
At the request of the Philippine government, the United States sent eight of its experts to Oriental Mindoro to assist in ongoing efforts to mitigate the effects of the spill and prevent further environmental damage, a statement from the US Embassy in Manila said.
The experts arrived in Pola town on Tuesday. Two of them are members of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) who have provided the PCG with satellite imagery to boost the assessment efforts of how far the spill has reached.
The embassy said five members from the US Coast Guard’s (USCG) National Strike Force will provide expertise and assess the affected areas “to determine the most effective method and equipment to contain and clean up the oil spill from the sunken tanker.”
It said the Noaa provided the University of the Philippines-Marine Sciences Institute support for scientific modeling to estimate the trajectory of the spill.
“Lastly, a US Navy supervisor of salvage and diving will evaluate the technical parameters required to support the possible deployment of [an ROV],” it added.
Before they were sent to Pola, the American experts were briefed by PCG personnel and members of the Japan Disaster Relief Expert Team about oil-spill mitigation measures that had been taken so far.
—REPORTS FROM DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., MADONNA T. VIROLA AND JACOB LAZARO
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