Reparation, not circumvention

Pollution is threatening to destroy an expanse of nature’s wonder while at the same time displacing poor Filipinos whose livelihoods rely on marine resources.

It took nearly two weeks for information to slowly trickle out about who should be held accountable for one of the biggest natural disasters to strike the country.

During that period, senators who usually raise hell at the slightest instance of a controversy fell suspiciously silent.

One of the senators, who hails from the area affected by the catastrophe and who has made herself known as a protector of nature, was elusive during the intervening period since the spill happened.

The dearth of information could have something to do with those involved, which includes a big company that has become controversial lately over consumer issues.

Papers filed with the government shipping regulator showed a unit of the conglomerate had chartered RDC Reield Marine Services to ship the 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil from Limay, Bataan to Iloilo last 28 February.

The MT Princess Empress which carried the oil sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro after encountering rough seas and strong winds on that day.

The oil spill is projected to impact more areas of the Verde Island Passage or VIP, including Batangas and even tourist mecca Boracay.

The sensitive ecosystems of VIP are the main concern of ecology groups.

These groups noticed the information blackout which led them to believe the cover-up was a result of the involvement of a big business concern.

The business firm can’t be trusted with safety as it remains chained to the fossil fuel industry, according to an environmental watchdog.

No one should be spared from the probe — not even the conglomerate — no matter their size or influence.

The Revised Rules on Prevention, Containment, Abatement and Control of Oil Marine Pollution in Philippine Coast Guard Memorandum Circular 01-2005 provides the basis for running after those responsible for the release of toxic substances to the seas.

Under the guidelines, the charterer is considered the owner of the vessel and the spiller which puts on it the responsibility to pay up.

The rules also require forfeiture of the charterer’s P70 million cash bond — P50 million for clean-up and containment, and P20 million to compensate impacted communities.

The obligation of the polluting company will be enormous. The fishing sector in the VIP area alone, which includes Oriental Mindoro, was valued at P11.8 billion in 2021.

The impact in terms of the disruption in the tourism sector was valued in 2019 at P3.5 billion.

Even ordinary people who own sari-sari stores, tricycle drivers who transport tourists, and resort workers have had their livelihoods on pause and seek reparation.

The effect of the spill continues to spread, meanwhile.

The Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines, which has been tracking the leaked fuel, estimated the spill could spread to other parts of the Visayas region.

The containment of oil spills is a race against time and the longer it takes, the more horrific its consequences, according to nature watchdogs.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources should respond quickly and ensure immediate cleanup and assessment of the severity of the spill. While the national and local governments must assist the coastal communities where livelihoods will be on pause, according to Brent Ivan Andres, Oceans, Coastal and Community Program Head of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, a member organization of the Protect VIP Network.

Pollution is threatening to destroy an expanse of nature’s wonder while at the same time displacing poor Filipinos whose livelihoods rely on marine resources.

Reparation is in order, particularly if big business, which has been feeding off the strong support of consumers for its products, is involved.

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