Oriental Mindoro oil spill

A month on, groups tell companies behind Oriental Mindoro oil spill to pay up

Iya Gozum

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A month on, groups tell companies behind Oriental Mindoro oil spill to pay up

COMMUNITY EFFORT. In this file photo, residents of San Jose, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, collect coconut husks, plastic bottles, and dried rice stalks to make floaters to block the massive oil that spilled from a sunken tanker, on March 20, 2023.

Johnmark Udtuhan Mendoza/PonD News Asia

A month after the environmental disaster, several groups band together to seek reparations from the government and companies at fault

MANILA, Philippines – A month after motor tanker Princess Empress capsized and caused an oil spill off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, several environmental groups in the Philippines formed a coalition to demand reparations for communities and biodiversity affected by the disaster.

During the launch of the Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas (SOS) coalition on Tuesday, March 28, SOS said the “elusive” transparency on the investigation gave “no assurance that responsible agencies exhausted all effort to urgently contain the spill and remove oil.”

The advocates said this lack of assurance failed to inspire confidence in communities that companies at fault would be held accountable.

It was a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation that chartered the capsized tanker that was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. RDC Reield Marine Services, the owner of the tanker, was recently slapped with cease-and-desist orders, which would be in effect until authorities finish their investigation into the embattled company.

According to SOS – composed of the Protect VIP Network, Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, Oceana, and Greenpeace Philippines – reparations should include compensation, containment and removal of oil, long-term rehabilitation, and “punitive actions that will be taken against all liable actors.”

“Sila ang nagdumi ng ating karagatan; sila dapat ang maglinis nito (They were the ones who spoiled our seas; they should be the ones to clean this up),” said Dino Melaya, convenor of the newly formed, Oriental Mindoro-based Koalisyon ng Mangingisda Apektado ng Oil Spill, during the launch.

Aside from containing the oil spill and cleaning up the oceans, the coalition demanded the companies pay a cash bond of at least P70 million ($1.29 million), per the Philippine Coast Guard’s Revised Rules on Prevention, Containment, Abatement, and Control of Oil Marine Pollution.

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In a separate statement, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), the national federation of fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines, estimated that 18,000 fisherfolk in Oriental Mindoro, Antique, and Palawan were affected by the oil spill.

Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said that the lengthy processes and strict requirements hindered oil spill victims from claiming indemnity.

Sa Oriental Mindoro, inirereklamo ng mga mangingisda sa ilang bayan ang mabagal at napakaraming rekisitos sa pagkuha ng bayad-pinsala sa kumpanyang may-ari ng MT Princess Empress,” he said.

(In Oriental Mindoro, fishermen in some areas are complaining about the slow process of claiming reparations from the owner of MT Princess Empress.)

He added, “Habang tumatagal at lumalawak ang saklaw ng oil spill, humahaba ang panahong gutom ang kanilang mga pamilya (The more the oil spill expands its reach, the longer the fisherfolk and their families go hungry).”

On Monday, March 27, the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro established a Claims Office where oil spill victims could file for compensation.

Protecting biodiversity

The oil spill has now reached the Verde Island Passage (VIP), the strait between Mindoro and Batangas, surrounded by Marinduque, Romblon, and Cavite. This was especially concerning, as VIP is also known as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity.”

The ecological damage caused by the oil spill has brought into focus policy reforms concerning polluting companies.

SOS called for the “prohibition of the transport of highly toxic cargo such as fossil fuels over ecologically sensitive waters” – a suggestion supported by Oriental Mindoro Governor Bonz Dolor, who said this could be done through a presidential order in the absence of legislation.

Concerned groups also said it was high time the government integrated the VIP into the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System.

According to the UP Marine Science Institute’s latest bulletin, oil was still leaking out of the sunken tanker as of March 23. The Philippine Coast Guard already raised its oil spill response to Tier 3 – the highest level of response. – Rappler.com

$1 = P54.38

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.