Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Puerto Galera mayor faults UP MSI’s oil spill projections for driving away tourists

Iya Gozum

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Puerto Galera mayor faults UP MSI’s oil spill projections for driving away tourists

PUERTO GALERA. This file photo shows traditional Filipino outrigger boats on a beautiful white sand beach in the resort area of Puerto Galera.


Experts from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute maintain that their oil spill projections are meant to help local government units prepare

MANILA, Philippines – Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan appealed to the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) to be “responsible” in their Oriental Mindoro oil spill projections as these allegedly were driving away tourists bound for their beaches.

Sana naman, katulad ng naunang sinabi ko, ay maging responsible sila dahil hanapbuhay po ng mga tao ang naapektuhan (I hope they’re more responsible in their projections since it’s the livelihood of people that is at stake),” Ilagan said in an ABS-CBN interview on March 19.

At alam ‘nyo, ‘pag nawalan nanaman po kami ng hanapbuhay, kawawa po ang aming mga kababayan. Babalik nanaman po kami sa panghihingi nanaman ng bigas (And you know, it’s the people who suffer when they lose their jobs. We would have to ask for rice supply again).”

Ilagan said Puerto Galera remains oil spill-free. The mayor even invited marine experts to their municipality to check the beaches for themselves.

Marine experts have expressed concern about the oil spill’s impact on tourism – a huge source of revenue for coastal communities. Pristine beaches and tourist attractions along the Verde Island Passage (VIP), in particular, are under threat as the oil spill spreads in the strait.

In a bulletin released on Wednesday, March 22, marine experts estimated the oil spill would flow in the VIP through the week of March 17 to 26.

Scientists specifically mentioned Puerto Galera, known for its beaches and dive sites.

“The area also encompasses Puerto Galera, whose white sand beaches are internationally-acclaimed tourist destinations that are another vital source of revenue for local communities,” experts from the UP Diliman College of Science said in a statement.

“Damage from the oil spill may affect biodiversity (including endemic species only found in the Philippines as well as species yet to be discovered), tourism revenues, and food security in the area.”

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Despite Ilagan’s remark, the UP MSI maintained that these projections were made to help prepare local government units, even if the oil spill had not yet reached their area.

“We at UP-MSI share the hope of the LGU officials of Oriental Mindoro, from the governor to the mayors, that the oil spill will be contained near the point source and removed while it is still offshore,” the institute told Rappler in an email.

“The projections of the trajectory of [the] oil slick we released may be used by LGU officials as an early warning for them to prepare and deploy countermeasures to prevent the oil from reaching their shores.”

Sectors affected

The tourism industry is just one of the many sectors affected after the MT Princess Empress carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil submerged in Oriental Mindoro almost a month ago.

“It’s not just fisherfolk – these barangays depend on the seas to bring in money for trade, transport, and tourism, and soon, the whole country would feel it too,” said Gerry Arances, executive director of think tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) in a March 17 statement.

According to CEED, the tourism industry in Oriental Mindoro generated ₱3.5 billion in 2019.

Last March 16, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Frasco said 61 tourist sites were already affected by the oil spill.

Rappler sought comments from DOT Calabarzon and DOT Mimaropa through email if there were any plans in place to weather the impact of the oil spill on tourism workers. Rappler has yet to receive a response as of this posting. – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

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