Friday, 25 February 2011

Environmentalists mark Guimaras Oil Spill

By Nora O. Gamolo

Environmentalists and fisherfolk groups picketed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to commemorate the four-year anniversary of the Petron Guimaras Oil Spill.
“Four years have passed since Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation (SMDC) spilled more than two million liters of oil in the Guimaras Sea, yet until now justice has not been served. Just compensation has been denied and environmental rehabilitation remains unfinished,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE).
The MT Solar 1, with a 998 gross tonnage. sank 21 kilometers south off of Guimaras on August 11, 2006. It was carrying 2,193,000 liters of bunker oil. The locally-registered vessel is owned by SMDC, and was chartered by Petron Corporation.
According to the government’s National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the spill damaged about 234 kilometers of coastline, 1,143 hectares of marine reserves, 478 hectares of mangroves, and 16 square kilometers of coral reefs.
It also wrought havoc on the people’s health and livelihood. Just four days after the spill, nearly 14% of the approximately 150,000 people of Guimaras were affected, and 4,000 fisherfolk households lost their livelihood.
"Despite the massive environmental destruction, no one was held accountable. Many years have passed, but Petron, SMDC, and responsible government officials culpable for the disaster were left off the hook," said Bautista.
"What is worse is that Petron, the owner of the millions liters of bunker-fuel spilled, was classified as the victim and was granted more than P100 million for damages by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), while IOPCF refused to compensate 125,480 residents, mostly fisherfolks, of Guimaras who were affected by the oil spill,” Bautista explained.
Based on the 2008 International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) Report, a total of P947,434,684 was paid to private corporations, including Petron and foreign corporations, and to 23,617 individuals involved in the oil spill “clean-up” operation.
The bulk of the payment was for clean-up operation totalling 751,069,099 pesos which was given to only nine entities, said Clemente.
“After one of the biggest oil spills in Philippine history, the government still has not learned its lesson. There are still no adequate laws and policies to protect our marine ecosystem and hold liable the culprits of toxic pollution and contamination like oil spills,” said Giovanni Tapang, a physicist, and chairman of the AGHAM- Science and Technology for the People.
According to the group, oil spills and maritime disasters continue to proliferate.
Several oil spill accidents have occurred recently. One started near Bacolod City, Negros Occidental on July 3. Another happened off the coast of Calatagan town, Batangas City, and was discovered on July 4.
Two oil spills occurred off the town of Rosario in Cavite and Mariveles, Bataan at the height of typhoon 'Basyang'.
A fuel leak happened in La Union province on July 21. The latest incident is the sinking of cargo vessel SF Freighter in the coast of Marinduque on August 7.
"Five oil spills and ship sinking in over a month is an indication of lax monitoring, regulation and accountability both of the erring corporations and of the government," said Tapang
"The Philippine Coast Guard and DENR should ensure that oil spills and similar 'accidents' are prevented. If they do happen, these agencies should also lead in addressing the problem immediately and penalize the polluters and see to it that these 'accidents' do not happen again," explained Tapang.
However, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and DENR have clearly failed to do their mandate, the physicist riled.
The group also noted that there are no clear laws or ordinances that state the penalties and standards in situations where oil spills are highly likely.
The Bacolod incident originated from Chevron. The oil spill in Cavite came from Petron's pipe line, while that in Batangas came from still unidentified foreign vessels. The incident in Bataan came from leaking motor boats, and the gasoline leak in La Union was traced to Flying V's fuel depot.
"Though reports say that these leaks were not massive, and all were 'responded to quickly', it is difficult to quantify the effect these have on the marine environment and nearby fishing communities. That government agencies and companies dismissed these incidents as minor show a lack of regard to the effects they have on our seas and people," said Tapang.
After the incidents, the groups claimed there was no report of any company being sanctioned or asked to pay for reparations and compensation.
They call on the DENR, PCG and local government units to probe these incidents and put up a sound and effective system to prevent these cases from happening again.
"We cannot expect much from private companies to look after the environment and be accountable for their facilities and operations if our own government is not doing their job in monitoring these companies and enforcing strict standards." said Bautista.
"If these agencies do not do their jobs and will not punish these companies, then President Aquino should demonstrate a precedent so these disasters will have fewer chances of happening," he ended.