Oriental Mindoro oil spill

IN PHOTOS: Oil spill cleanup in Buhay na Tubig, Oriental Mindoro

Lorenz Pasion

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IN PHOTOS: Oil spill cleanup in Buhay na Tubig, Oriental Mindoro

HIDDEN IN CREVICES. A volunteer collects a bucketful of oil sludge from a deep crevice between two large boulders in Buhay na Tubig.

Lorenz Pasion

Buhay na Tubig is one of the areas in Pola, Oriental Mindoro hardest hit by the oil spill

MANILA, Philippines – Buhay na Tubig is an area 10 kilometers from the town proper of the municipality of Pola, Oriental Mindoro. It is one of the hardest hit areas by the oil spill from MT Princess Empress, an oil tanker which sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28.

On March 6, Rappler visited Buhay na Tubig to look at the situation there. Here’s what happened during Rappler’s visit to Buhay na Tubig, captured in photos.

OFF ROAD. Traveling to Buhay na Tubig is commonly done via boat, but land travel using Pola’s 10-kilometer dirt road is an alternative when sea conditions are not safe for travel. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler
TRAVERSING THE MOUNTAIN. The local government of Pola has all-terrain vehicles (ATV) that they use when they go to Buhay na Tubig for government activities. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

To traverse the dirt road with several high slopes, some locals use motorcycles but most residents travel from one place to another by foot. Earlier that day, an elderly man from Buhay na Tubig walked all the way to Pola’s town proper to get assistance from the government, reaching the town center after four hours. Traveling to Pola using vehicles cuts the trip to just an hour and a half.

Minutes upon arrival at Buhay na Tubig, 76-year-old Simeona Ringel Aceveda approached the mayor’s car and spoke with Mayor Jennifer “Ina Alegre” Cruz about the situation in Buhay na Tubig.

CAN’T BREATHE. 76-year-old Simeona Ringel Aceveda says she had difficulty breathing for three straight days until she decided to temporarily stay at her sibling’s home far away from the smell of the oil spill. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

“I had difficulty breathing for three straight days but I have no other choice but to continue working,” Aceveda told Rappler. She said the smell of the oil from Buhay na Tubig’s shore was oftentimes swept by the wind farther inland.

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A three-minute walk downhill from where the mayor’s car was parked was a cleanup activity on the rocky shore.

FIRST GLANCE. The cleanup activity in Buhay na Tubig can only be reached by walking down a steep and rocky slope. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

Several volunteers, clad in Hazmat suits, cleaned a rocky part of the shore where oil is stuck in crevices in between large boulders.

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The volunteers had to manually collect oil sludge consisting of oil mixed with sand, and temporarily put it in a bucket. Once a bucket was full of oil sludge, its contents were transferred to a sack gathered in an area for temporary storage.

IN LESS THAN TWO HOURS. Volunteers collect multiple sacks worth of oil sludge in their first two hours in the site. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler
PILE OF SACKS. Volunteers temporarily store oil sludge collected from the shore in sacks and place them in a designated area while waiting for their transfer to permanent containment storage facilities. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

According to cleanup volunteer Maribel Famadico, the volunteers live in Buhay na Tubig and were among the first allowed by the provincial government to conduct cleanup efforts in the area.

VOLUNTEER. Maribel Famadico, a 33-year-old cleanup volunteer from Buhay na Tubig, says the cleanup volunteers are mostly fisherfolk who want to help clean the waters where they fish. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

Famadico said they were briefed by the provincial government on how to properly handle, collect, and contain oil from the spill.

The volunteers were also examined to check if they were physically fit for the cleanup. Famadico said many residents wanted to volunteer but were not qualified due to their age or health conditions.

Famadico also told Rappler that as per safety guidelines, each batch of volunteers was only allowed to stay in the cleanup area for two hours.

According to the volunteers, they are willing to continue cleaning their community as long as there’s oil to be cleaned.

FIRST BATCH. Buhay na Tubig residents Roderick Mayo, Jovy Reanzares, Annierose Magcami, Myla Mores, Irene Macagaling, Babyflor Fetalco, Vanessa Sidugen, Raymundo Mores, Almisa Eligores, William Añonuevo, and Madera Limuel are among the first volunteers allowed to conduct cleanup efforts in their community. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also helps the volunteers in cleaning up Buhay na Tubig, working with them in shifts. Famadico said the first shift starts at 7 am and ends at 9 am while the second shift starts at 9 am and ends at 11 am.

SHIFTS. After the volunteers’ shift, the Philippine Coast Guard replaces them and continues to clean up the area using oil absorbers. Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

Like humans, animals dwelling in the rocky shores of Buhay na Tubig are also severely affected by the environmental disaster.

SOAKED IN OIL. A crab in Buhay na Tubig becomes black after being covered in oil. Photo from KianStrong TV

– Rappler.com

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Lorenz Pasion

Lorenz Pasion is a researcher at Rappler and a member of its fact-check team that debunks false claims that spread on social media.