Groups demand ‘swift’ gov’t action as slick lingers in Mindoro
CITY OF CALAPAN—Concerned organizations on Tuesday demanded “transparent, urgent and sufficient action” on the oil spill that continued to affect Oriental Mindoro and some areas in Antique, Palawan and Batangas since MT Princess Empress sank off Naujan town on Feb. 28.
The Stop the Oil Spill (SOS) coalition, a broad network of civil society organizations, noted that it has been a month since the oil spill wrought havoc in Oriental Mindoro and nearby seas but investigations by concerned agencies remained unavailable for public scrutiny.
“Apart from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), none of the involved agencies provided documents, such as cargo manifest, investigation reports or oil-spill response plans that would shed light on the liable actors,” the group said at a virtual press briefing.
The coalition said they have been requesting documents about the incident from government agencies, such as the Bureau of Customs, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Office of the Civil Defense but to no avail.
Dubbed “Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas!” or SOS, the coalition is composed of representatives from the Protect VIP (Verde Island Passage) Network; Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED); Oceana Philippines; Greenpeace Philippines; and affected communities in Oriental Mindoro and Batangas.
The members of the newly formed coalition said they wanted to “ensure just reparation and sustained recovery for affected communities and biodiversity” and by now should hold accountable those responsible for the oil spill that continues to spread in the waters of the affected provinces, threatening vital marine resources, including the Verde Island Passage.
The Verde Island Passage is a strait between Batangas and Mindoro islands that biodiversity experts declared in 2005 as the Earth’s “center of marine shorefish biodiversity.”
MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil when it sank. As of Sunday, 10,206 liters of oil waste and 72,643 kilos of oil-coated debris had been collected in clean-up operations by PCG personnel and concerned communities, Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. had reported.
“We, a collective of concerned and affected stakeholders, are very alarmed by the inadequate level of response afforded to this disaster,” the group said in a statement read by Calapan-based Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the Protect VIP Network, during an online forum.
In a separate statement, activist fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said they joined the coalition to push for an immediate response to the oil spill for the benefit of fisherfolk who are the most affected by the effects of the harmful substance in the water.
Around 18,000 fishermen from Oriental Mindoro and parts of Antique and Palawan have been unable to return to their normal fishing activities for a month now, Pamalakaya said.
According to the DENR, the oil spill has spread to the City of Calapan and the towns of Bansud, Bongabong, Bulalacao, Gloria, Magsaysay, Mansalay, Naujan, Pinamalayan and Pola on Mindoro Island. Also affected were the coastal towns of Agutaya and Taytay in Palawan; Caluya town in Antique, which was placed under a state of calamity; and Batangas City and Tingloy town in Batangas.
Gerry Arances, the CEED executive director, noted it took three weeks for the shipowner to deploy a remotely operated vessel to locate the sunken tanker, “only to find out it could not stop the leak.”
“The response has been agonizingly slow, but even more glaring is the invisibility of those truly responsible for this catastrophe—(shipowner) RDC Reield Marine Services, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp. and by extension San Miguel Corp. Shipping and Lighterage,” said Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Jefferson Chua.
SL Harbor chartered the tanker from Bataan to Iloilo when it sank. SL Harbor is a subsidiary of SMC Shipping.
“One month after the oil spill tragedy, accountability remains elusive. In Oriental Mindoro, fisherfolk in several towns are expressing frustration over the slow and arduous process of obtaining compensation from the company that owns the MT Princess Empress, the vessel responsible for the spill,” Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chair, said in a statement.
Citing the Revised Rules on Prevention, Containment, Abatement and Control of Oil Marine Pollution, the SOS coalition said all affected communities and local governments who would file claims or actions for compensation should be covered by a cash bond of at least P70 million from the shipowner or its insurer, charterer and owner of the oil.
—WITH A REPORT FROM DELFIN T. MALLARI JR. INQ
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