Keep toxic cargo off Verde Island Passage, groups ask gov’t
CITY OF CALAPAN—Civil society groups and fisherfolk representatives on Tuesday asked the government to prohibit all tankers carrying toxic cargo from passing through the Verde Island Passage (VIP), the strait separating Mindoro and Batangas, to protect its critical biodiversity.
The call was made as the House committees on ecology and on natural resources jointly held a hearing on Tuesday in relation to the oil spill caused by the Feb. 28 sinking of the fuel tanker MT Princess Empress off Oriental Mindoro.
“The complexity of responses necessary in the aftermath of a disaster of this scale shows that we should not allow such incidents to happen in the first place,” said Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), in a statement. Ceed is coconvener of the environmental advocacy group Protect VIP.
He added: “Tankers carrying toxic cargo like industrial oil and other fossil fuels should be banned from coursing through the VIP.”
A part of the “coral triangle,” VIP is regarded by scientists as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity” in the world.
The groups raised the alarm over the high number of vessels carrying fossil fuel and toxic cargo allowed to ply critically biodiverse seas, especially the marine-significant VIP, without a complete and thorough assessment of their seaworthiness right from their point of departure, citing the MT Princess Empress’ case.
Oil tanker MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, and was later found at the bottom of the waters off nearby Pola town. Since then, the 800,000 liters of industrial fuel that the tanker was carrying have been slowly leaking into the sea and affecting several coastal areas in Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Batangas and Antique.
Fisherfolk group representatives who attended the hearing lamented the insufficient and problematic responses so far made for communities impacted by the oil spill, including unclear processes for the delivery of compensation, inedible products in food packs, and a lack of plans for long-term support for alternative livelihoods.
“It is disheartening to see the finger-pointing at the hearing earlier [which included] the discussion of allowing MT Princess Empress to sail despite having no permit to sail…,” said Dindo Melaya, convener of the fisherfolk coalition Koalisyon ng Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill.
Lives at stake
Melaya said he hoped that their presence in the hearing served as “a reminder to the government that lives and livelihoods are at stake here.”
“In the middle of all this, we call for a clear and long-term plan, such as providing an alternative livelihood program for our fisherfolk who are yet to resume fishing activities, retrieval of the sunken tanker, and full accountability from the polluters—not insults by sending us canned tuna that are unsafe even for our dogs,” he said.
The groups also pointed out that the absence of representatives from the ship owner made the hearing “unable to genuinely facilitate the exacting of accountability from polluters.”
“Government agencies and members of our Congress can go on with the blame game as much as they want, but there will be no justice if the polluters that caused this ecological disaster are allowed to play truant,” Arances said.
He hoped that the government would take “punitive actions” against the companies involved, “including the compensation they owe to communities whose livelihoods they robbed and whose welfare they harmed.”
“These polluters should stop sending stand-ins, and instead, stand up and face the consequences of their actions,” Arances said.
Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo Loyzaga and governors of the five provinces surrounding the VIP on Tuesday reiterated their calls for the so-called Amazon of the Seas to be declared a protected area by law.
In a statement, Loyzaga said the highest level of protection for what is touted as the center of the world’s marine biodiversity would keep VIP “a sanctuary to thousands of marine species and off-limits to business activities that will threaten its pristine ecosystem.”
The VIP, Loyzaga said, is a marine protected area, but the governors wanted it to be a legally protected area.
The call was the result of a meeting between Loyzaga and Governors Hermilando Mandanas of Batangas and Presbitero Velasco Jr. of Marinduque. The threat of the recent oil spill in Oriental Mindoro on VIP was also discussed at the meeting. INQ