Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Mindoro oil spill: DOJ recommends criminal cases vs ship owners, others

Jairo Bolledo

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Mindoro oil spill: DOJ recommends criminal cases vs ship owners, others

AFFECTED AREAS. Oil spill relief operation, Pola, Oriental Mindoro. 3000 non food and 3000 food packs. 03292023?@jesuscasabar.photography 2023

PAGCOR Corporate Communications

(1st UPDATE) In explaining the indictment, the prosecutors say they 'uncovered irregularities in certain documents related to the construction and certificate of public convenience of M/T Princess Empress'

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors pushed to file criminal charges against the owners and corporate officers of the sunken ship that caused a massive oil spill in Oriental Mindoro last year.

The DOJ said in a statement on Wednesday, February 14, that the prosecutors’ panel recommended to indict corporate officers of ship owner RDC Reield Marine Services, Incorporated, two crews of M/T Princess Empress, one private individual, and one Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) personnel for the following charges: 

  • Multiple counts of falsification by a private individual
  • Multiple use of falsified documents under Article 172 in relation to Article 171 (2) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC)
  • Multiple counts of falsification of public or official documents under Article 171 (4) of the RPC

The environmental complaint is still pending, according to the DOJ. The recommendation of charges or indictment means the prosecutors will now file the case before a court.

Meanwhile, the prosecutors recommended the dismissal of charges against the other respondents due to lack of probable cause.

In explaining the indictment, the prosecutors said they “uncovered irregularities in certain documents related to the construction and certificate of public convenience of M/T Princess Empress.” They added that they also found that the ship owner RDC Reield Marine Services, Incorporated submitted falsified documents that include construction certificate and affidavit of ownership.

MARINA chief Sonia Malaluan said that authorities can expect full cooperation from their part: “As of now, I am not aware of such recommendation nor have received any communication on this. But, if it is true and should DOJ find prima facie evidence that warrants filing of case, as Administrator of MARINA, I can assure our full cooperation.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Pola, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Jennifer Cruz expressed gratitude to the DOJ, noting that the filing of charges comes nearly a year after the incident.

She said the negative impact of the oil spill continues to affect the town.

Dapat talaga ay managot ang may-ari ng barko dahil hanggang ngayon ay ramdam pa din ang epekto ng oil spill sa kabuhayan at ang ating bayan ay hirap pa din makabangon. Umaasa po tayo na magbabayad ang may-ari ng barko upang makatulong sa recovery dahil hindi biro ang ilang bilyong halaga na nawala sa ekonomiya sa bayan ng Pola,” Cruz said.

(The owner of the ship should really be held accountable because until now, we can still feel the effect of the oil spill on our livelihood, and our town continues to struggle to move on from the incident. We are hoping that the ship owner will pay to help in the recovery because Pola’s multibillion-peso economic loss is no joke.)

What happened before?

On February 28, the M/T Princess Empress, carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel, capsized off the coast of Naujan in Oriental Mindoro. The ship was heading to Iloilo, from Limay, Bataan, when it was lashed by strong waves near Tablas Island.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the ship submerged two days later. The incident caused a massive oil spill in Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, and Antique. 

In June 2023 or four months after the spill, the Philippine Coast Guard announced that the oil removal and siphoning had been completed. Civic leaders said that the completed operation was “hollow” due to the lack of accountability from the ship owner.

The incident launched numerous legislative hearings, where the alleged violations of the ship owner were gradually unearthed. This included the revelation that the ship allegedly had no updated permit to operate.

In June 2023, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Pola town mayor filed complaints against the ship owner and some PCG and MARINA officials. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.