What’s SMC waiting for?

Half a month has passed and none of the officials of the companies involved has stepped forward to face the public.

Foreign investors of San Miguel Corp. are starting to inquire about the real score of the conglomerate’s involvement in the oil spill off Oriental Mindoro which is threatening the Verde Island Passage or VIP, the global center of marine biodiversity.

European companies, particularly, are very meticulous about the businesses that they get into do not harm the environment, and are proactive in ecological protection.

SMC, thus far, has yet to manifest its presence in the worsening tragedy despite it being the known charterer of the sunken MT Princess Empress.

As charterer, it was the owner of the vessel when it sank with 900,000 liters of industrial oil last 28 February.

A leak in the vessel is spilling about 50,000 liters of oil per day and the toxic substance has spread as far as Palawan.

Swift action is needed as environment watchdogs said a shift in the wind direction will be fatal to the rich marine resources between Batangas and Oriental Mindoro. Coastal communities as far as Antique are worried about the wind shift.

“We’re worried about the wind conditions which can bring the oil spill to our area. It’s tuna season here in our area and tons of fish are being caught through sustainable fishing. We have the biggest number of mangroves and well-managed coastal resources here in Northern Antique,” said Mayor Mary Jean Te of Libertad, Antique.

The mayor should ask Senator Loren Legarda, who hails from the province, to seek compensation from SMC.

Green organizations indicated historical data and past experiences showed oil leaks cause long-term damage to communities and the environment, leading to significant losses and staggering costs of recovery.

Paul Horsman, Greenpeace Strategy Advisor, for instance, said, “30 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, traces of the oil can still be found in the sediment in affected areas.”

If the areas across the VIP were to be damaged by the extensive impact of the oil spill, fisheries in other areas would be affected as well.

The law provides for a “polluter pays” principle. “Republic Act 9483 spells out the liability of those responsible for the oil spill,” said Liza Osorio, legal and policy director of ecology watchdog Oceana.

Osorio added that the cost that responsible companies should shoulder covers cleanup operations at sea, preventive measures, consequential laws or loss of earnings, pure economic loss, and even damage to human health or loss of life, among others.

The slick has snaked its way to the economic centers of the country.

The City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Calapan confirmed traces of oil on the shores of Barangay Navotas. Calapan is a major economic center of the Mimaropa region.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP convener, said fisherfolk organizations in provinces surrounded by the VIP are worried about livelihood support and response.

The economic cost of the oil spill is huge. The fishing sector in the VIP area, which includes Oriental Mindoro, was valued at P11.8 billion in 2021, while in 2019 its tourism industry generated P3.5 billion.

“There must be decisive action to minimize the impact and demand accountability from the charterer and ship owner which seems to be heading towards a bailout based on how the Senate hearing last week went,” said Gerry Arances, executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development.

The ecology groups are demanding reparation for the affected communities from RDC Reield Marine Services, the owner of the MT Princess Empress, and SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation, which owned the cargo.

Half a month has passed and none of the officials of the companies involved has stepped forward to face the public.

One of the big partners of SMC in the New Manila International Airport project is the Dutch government-backed infrastructure giant Boskalis Westminster NV.

It is under pressure from European ecology groups to demand that SMC take responsibility for actions that threaten nature.

SMC, without prodding, should take the lead in assuming the huge cost of averting a natural disaster caused by the reckless shipment of its bunker fuel.

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