Close the Pandacan oil depot
Last November 25, 2014 the Philippine Supreme Court did right by our people by upholding the legal basis for closing the Pandacan oil depot.
Sitting on 33 hectares of land by the Pasig River, the depot holds a total of 313 million liters of gasoline, diesel, bunker oil, LPG, aviation jet fuel and other highly pollutive and hazardous chemicals. If even a fraction of this would spill, it would be a major threat to the Pasig River, Manila Bay (into which the river drains) and, depending on the size of the spill, the seas of Southeast Asia and beyond.
For example, the Manila Bay Oil spill Contingency Plan released by the UNDP, DENR and the Philippine Coast Guard in 2006 notes that an oil spill of greater than 1,000 cubic meters may overwhelm the Philippine's capacity to respond. The Pandacan depot contains 313,000 cubic meters.
It isn't as if the safety record of the First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC), which operates the depot's supply line that runs from a refinery in Batangas, is all that sterling. In fact recent incidents became the subject of national news. In 2010, for example, residents of Bangkal, Makati City, were put in danger because of leakage from a portion of the pipeline that supplies the Pandacan depot. Oil seeped into the basement of a 22-floor condominium, alarming residents and causing their evacuation. FPIC was clueless for months, claiming at first that it had done investigative measures to ascertain whether the leak was theirs. Luckily for FPIC, local experts from the University of the Philippines saved their necks.
Apart from actual "accidents" there has been documentation that pollution from the refinery is causing problems for Pandacan residents. In 2005 the UP College of Medicine concluded in a study entitled, "A Cross Sectional Study on the Neurophysical Effects of Exposure to Refined Petroleum Products among Adult Residents in 3 Three Barangays Near the Pandacan Oil Depots," that there was an increase in incidence and severity of cases involving impairment of the nervous system among those living near the depot. High levels of benzene have also been reported to be in the air coming from the depot.
Political protection for dangerous dinosaur
The oil depot started as a small facility in 1914. Pandacan predates the oil depot by centuries. A settlement near the mouth of the Pasig River, it is home to many heroes and poets.
It was known in its golden age as the Venice of the Philippines because of the river tributaries that criss-crossed the area. The Philippine population was around 8.6 million in 1914 while it stands today, a century later, at 100 million people. One can imagine that the current population of Pandacan, which is around 82,000, was very much smaller in 1914. The historical context is necessary to understand how something so inappropriate as a large oil depot should be at the heart of a megapolis, riven by earthquake faults, in a community of such great natural and historical value.
Residents and advocates have called for the closure of the Pandacan depot for years. An early coalition to shut down the depot has since metamorphosed into an organization with broader concerns which is now called the "Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice." The closure of the Pandacan depot and its pipleine continues to be one of its major campaigns. It has played a big role in the fight to save Pandacan, if not the entire region, from an environmental catastrophe. The legal struggle that has culminated in the Supreme Court victory, is partly due to its efforts.
Resistance and cooptation
In 2001, the Manila City Council passed Ordinance 8027, which reclassified the area where the depot stands from industrial to commercial. In 2006, Ordinance 8119 ordered the phaseout of environmentally hazardous industries within Manila's city limits. Both ordinances meant that the Pandacan depot had to be shut down.
So why is the oil depot still there?
Because in 2002, Mayor Lito Atienza entered into an agreement with the 3 big oil companies using the depot (Shell, Chevron and Petron) to "scale down" operations and build a buffer zone. These forced the activists to file a petition with the Supreme Court to force Mayor Atienza to implement Ordinance 8027. The Supreme Court decided in 2009 to uphold Ordinance 8027 and call for its immediate implementation.
However, the new mayor, Alfredo Lim, and his city council passed Ordinance 8187, which invalidated Ordinance 8027 and Ordinance 8119. The AESJ coalition, which has been monitoring developments, says that both ordinances were meant to favor Shell, Chevron and Petron and their continued use of the Pandacan depot.
And so the activists went back to the Supreme Court which ruled with finality that Ordinance 8187 was unconstitutional.
It would seem that current Mayor Joseph Estrada has both the political sense and the political will to finally end this drama. While I have been critical of him and his family in other contexts, I will praise him for his actions regarding this issue.
In truth, Chevron has already ceased using the Pandacan depot. Petron will be ending operations by 2015.
But the fly in the ointment is the last holdout: Shell. It is co-owner along with Petron and Chevron of the depot.
The story of working with pliable politicians against the well-being of local communities is not a strange story as far as Shell is concerned. The Pandacan story is nothing compared to the story of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists, executed by the military dictatorship of Nigeria. Their crime? Campaigning against the massive environmental degradation of the Niger Delta by Shell oil extractive operations which devastated their tribe, the Ogoni. Ken Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots execution will forever haunt Shell's corporate reputation. But it is only the most visible of its conflicts with the many communities around the world. Some of those conflicts involve pipelines and poor safety and environmental controls. There is a lot of literature around Shell's misdoings but one report can be found here.
And so, I rest uneasy despite my impression of Mayor Estrada as being tough and decisive when it comes to a fight. I am uneasy despite a clear mandate by the Supreme Court. I am convinced that Shell is a transnational corporation that has shown itself capable of circumventing the sovereign will of nations and the resistance of communities that get in the way of its operations.
It is time for us to join the valiant advocates who have been fighting for our safety for more than a decade now. We must join them in their vigil and activism. We need to close the Pandacan oil depot. – Rappler.com