Oil spill victims sue gov’t agencies
ILOILO CITY, Philippines—Residents of a coastal community affected by an oil spill during the onslaught of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” in northern Iloilo province have filed a P20.3-million civil suit against government agencies, which they say were negligent in preventing the calamity.
Named respondents in the eight-page complaint filed in court by 50 residents of Botongon village in Estancia town on Friday are Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm), National Power Corp. (Napocor) and the Department of Energy.
“The defendants committed gross negligence in not adopting precautionary measures before the typhoon, which could have prevented the oil spill,” according to the complaint filed by their legal counsel, Rene Estocapio of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, in the Regional Trial Court Branch 66 in Barotac Viejo town.
PSALM owns the Napocor-operated Power Barge 103, which broke loose from its moorings 200 meters away from the coastline at the height of Yolanda. The vessel slammed against the rocky shores of Botongon on Nov. 8 last year, triggering the oil spill after its hull was damaged.
Two persons were believed to have been crushed inside a house that was hit by the barge.
At least 900,000 liters of bunker fuel flowed into the sea from the 32-megawatt vessel.
Officials forcibly evacuated more than 2,000 villagers on Nov. 23 after the Department of Health declared that the toxicity level of the air reached 15 times the tolerable level. Except for 100 families, residents returned to their village on Dec. 20 after staying for nearly a month in tents and classrooms at Northern Iloilo Polytechnic State College’s West Campus.
The oil spill contaminated the waters and coastline, reaching the mangrove forests in the neighboring town of Batad and preventing fishing and shell gathering.
The complainants are seeking compensation under Republic Act No. 9483, or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007. The amount includes P10 million in actual damage, P10 million for loss of potential income, P100,000 in exemplary damages, P100,000 in moral damages and P100,000 in legal fees.
They stressed that the oil spill and its effects on their livelihood “were not caused by an ‘act of God’ or any fortuitous event.” They said the barge was “stationed on a permanent tidal mooring that allows it to rise and fall through the full tidal cycle.”
The government’s weather bureau had predicted as early as two days before Yolanda that some areas, including Estancia, would be on the path of the storm, they said. They claimed that those responsible for the power barge failed to transfer it to a safe area.
Preventive or precautionary measure was “very crucial, considering that there were reports of possible storm surges, the location of the power barge was very near coastal residential areas and it (barge) carried bunker fuel,” they added.
Estocapio asked the court to consider the complainants an indigent party and be exempted from filing docket fees. “The plaintiffs are poor and needy, and the recent calamities that hit them have aggravated their poor and miserable condition,” according to the complaint.
The barge was removed by two tugboats from Estancia on Jan. 17. It is expected to arrive at Keppel Subic Shipyard in Zambales province on Jan. 20, according to Commodore Athelo Ybanez, Philippine Coast Guard chief for Western Visayas.
The cleanup of the coastline by the private contractor, Kuan Yu Global Technologies Inc., is still ongoing amid complaints of delay by residents and officials.
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