Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Oriental Mindoro folk impatient with oil spill claims process

Francine Sucgang

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Oriental Mindoro folk impatient with oil spill claims process

CLEANUP. Residents of Brgy Zone 2, Pola, Oriental Mindoro connect long bamboo poles and attach coconut palm leaves to be used as floaters to block oil that spilled from a sunken tanker off the coast of Naujan on March 4. 2023.

Arjay Cleofe/PonD News Asia

A spokesperson of the Maritime Industry Authority says that the oil tanker MT Princess Empress is insured for $1 billion

ORIENTAL MINDORO, Philippines – Myzel Sael, an employee at Air Vacation House and Beach Resort in Pili, Pinamalayan, traveled almost two hours to the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Capitol in Calapan City on Tuesday, March 28.

Sael is among thousands of workers, fisherfolk, and small entrepreneurs who took a hit from the oil spill when the MT Empress oil tanker sank off the coast of Mindoro on February 28.

She wanted to file for compensation early.

“I thought they would start accepting claims [on Monday, March 27]”, she said, referring to a government announcement.

She arrived at the capital to find the claims office barely set up five days after the insurance company of the sunk motor tanker announced the launch of its “claims caravan” in the Oriental Mindoro capitol.

A spokesperson of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) reported last week that the oil tanker MT Princess Empress is insured for $1 billion.

NOT YET READY. The help desk for the oil spill claims process isn’t yet ready to accept claims as the legal staff still have to complete training. Francine Sucgang
‘They should pay’

Although there is no visible oil in the waters of Pinamalayan, water activity is not allowed.

This has caused tourists to cancel their bookings at the beach resort where Sael works. 

“Our income is basically zero. We would like to file a claim for our employees because if we don’t have customers, we will not have the budget to pay them.” 

Sael says she is hopeful and positive about receiving compensation “because we are affected and they should pay.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on March 24 said the Coast Guard had raised its operations on the Oriental Mindoro oil spill to Tier 3, the highest level.

Tier 3 means the Philippine government will need “resources from national and international sources” to control the spillage.

The oil spill has affected 17 municipalities across four provinces, including Antique in Western Visayas, Batangas, and Palawan. But it is Oriental Mindoro that has suffered the most damage.

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A subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation chartered the capsized tanker that was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. The government recently slapped cease-and-desist orders on RDC Reield Marine Services, the owner of the tanker.

But for Sael and others who have invested time and spent money on travel, the process remains confusing and every day represents income loss.

A provincial employee manning the help desk explained that Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito “Bonz” Dolor had announced on Monday that the claims caravan will not start accepting claims until Friday, March 31. 

On Tuesday, staff from the government’s legal office was still undergoing training. 

The legal office team will assist claimants at the Oil Spill Help Desk in filling out the forms necessary to file for compensation. 

Additional basic documents needed are a government ID as well as registration papers, depending on their field of work.

LONG-TERM REHABILITATION. The capitol of Oriental Mindoro hosts help desks for residents filing their oil-spill claims process. Francine Sucgang

On Wednesday, March 29 the claims officials traveled to the affected municipalities to speak to mayors and residents. 

The dialogues will help them decide where to set up further claims caravans aside from the one being established on Friday in the Provincial Capitol in Calapan. Further information on the locations is yet to be shared. 

Across 10 municipalities,  24,309 families have been affected by the oil spill as of March 28, said Oriental Mindoro Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) chief Ram Joseph Temeña.

In addition, 23 tourism areas suffered under the oil spill.

As of March 27, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) had collected 10,160 liters offshore through use of spill booms as well as 91,100 kg of contaminated materials on the shoreline. 

Once the oil is collected, it is transported to Bulacan to be treated by an accredited oil waste collector by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). 

About 31,392 families, or 141,988 individuals, have been affected by the oil spill in Mimaropa and the Western Visayas regions, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The agency said it has provided P20 million in cash aid and provided food packs to tens of thousands of families.

RELIEF AID. Tens of thousands of families in Oriental Mindoro need emergency aid as their livelihood and business have been interrupted, probably for a long time, by the oil spill from the sunk MT Princess Empress. Francine Sucgang
Not just relief

Jefferson Chua, a climate campaigner from Greenpeace Philippines, said the government must pursue reparations not only by the ship owner but, more importantly, the owner of the oil. 

“And not only for the immediate damages but for long-term rehabilitation efforts as well,” he said. 

Greenpeace also urged the government to take concrete steps to ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels. 

Greenpeace is part of the Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas (SOS) coalition, which has called for “punitive actions” against liable actors and slammed the lack of transparency that characterized the first month of the probe.

“This oil spill incident is just a symptom of the continued operations of the fossil fuel industry”, said Chua. – Rappler.com

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