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MANILA, Philippines – “Pagod na po kami sa aming bayan.” (Our town is tired.)
Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz expressed frustration on Monday, May 29, about the slow progress of government response to the Oriental Mindoro oil spill that happened three months ago. Cruz was one of the resource persons during a joint hearing conducted on Monday by the House ecology and natural resource committees.
“Gusto namin may managot na lang po (We want accountability),” Cruz said, adding that the ship owner of the capsized MT Princess Empress should be sued.
“Sana makasuhan na po kasi sobrang tagal na. For three months wala pa rin pong nangyayari.” (We want accountability. We hope the polluter will be sued because it’s been so long. For three months, nothing’s happening.)
The oil spill off the town of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro is one of the Philippines’ biggest ecological disasters, causing up to P7 billion in environmental damage and endangering Verde Island Passage, known as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity.”
Three months after MT Princess Express sank on February 28, oil is still leaking from its tanker, and accountability remains elusive.
Before the Pola mayor spoke, Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas raised the possibility of the government pushing sanctions against RDC and the charterer of the vessel. The charterer of the sunken tanker was SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation.
Under the law, the charterer cannot be held liable.
Committee chairperson Cavite 4th District Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said, “We can always amend the law and remove the exemption given to them.”
This would only have a prospective effect, however, as any amendment to the law cannot be applied retroactively. Barzaga said, “‘Wag kayong umasa na ang San Miguel will be liable.” (Don’t expect that San Miguel will be liable.)
Reymundo Cabial, president of RDC, was present during the hearing. RDC vice president Fritzie Tee, who attended via Zoom, read the company’s statement.
“We sincerely apologize to the communities, the local and national government and agencies,” said Tee. “It is critical to note that despite the best efforts of all parties involved to prevent such incidents, elements beyond human control such as sudden weather disturbance in the area resulted in this unfortunate event.”
Culture of impunity
Outside the House of Representatives, environmental groups staged a protest before the hearing, demanding “day of reckoning for RDC and San Miguel Corporation (SMC).”
Father Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of network Protect VIP, fears the government is still not treating the oil spill as a national disaster.
“While the government dilly-dallies in exacting accountability and justice, the damage to Verde Island Passage’s ecosystem and resulting impacts on stakeholders continue to worsen,” Gariguez said. “Companies responsible for this must be punished.”
“Despite clear violations and disruption, justice remains elusive,” Gariguez added. Past hearings on the issue discovered that the tanker sailed many times without an updated permit.
If anything, the oil spill only showed a “culture of impunity,” said Leody de Guzman of Partido Lakas ng Masa.
“It is not only oil that continues to leak into the VIP but also our culture of impunity,” said De Guzman. “I stand here as one with my hometown of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, one of the hard-hit towns by the oil spill and fishing bans, in demanding that RDC and SMC be held liable for their actions.”
Many groups warned of the consequences of the oil spill spreading into the Verde Island Passage.
To protect it, groups suggest integrating the VIP into the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System and banning ships containing toxic cargo from passing through Verde Island Passage. – Rappler.com