SEN. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go is urging concerned authorities to take necessary and immediate actions to address the oil spill incident in Oriental Mindoro caused by the capsizing of MT Princess Empress.
“The owner of the vessel must answer. We should not rely solely on the government in cleaning the coastal areas affected by the oil spill. Many families will go hungry, especially those who depend on fishing for their daily sustenance. Their health is already affected,” said Go in an interview after he led a relief operation in Romblon, Romblon on Thursday, March 16.
MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel, sank in the waters off the coast of Naujan town in Oriental Mindoro on February 28. The Maritime Industry Authority earlier claimed that the oil tanker had no authority to operate as the application for its amended Certificate of Public Convenience was still pending.
However, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) belied this. Still, Go urged the ship owners to take full responsibility for the incident regardless if they had a permit or not.
According to the PCG, the oil spill has also already affected the provinces of Palawan and Antique. “The presence of oil at sea is dangerous to our health, especially now that the entire coastline of the island of Oriental Mindoro is affected by the oil spill,” said Go in a separate interview during his visit in Taytay, Rizal on March 14.
Emphasizing the adverse impact of the incident on the economy, particularly on local industries such as fisheries, tourism and recreation, Go urged the government to expedite the clean up operations and other interventions, saying, “For me, the government has to fast-track the intervention, let’s help one another. Our coast gurads and the local government units are there doing their jobs.” According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, more than 2,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass are estimated to be potentially affected by the oil spill. Meanwhile, the senator shared that he was able to discuss with Oriental Mindoro Gov. Humerlito Dolor and Pola town Mayor Jennifer Cruz separately the situation of the residents who have been affected, especially in the town of Pola. Governor Dolor likewise said that there are more than a hundred residents who went ill because of the oil spill, some of them suffering from vomiting and diarrhea while others are having respiratory problems. “In my case as a senator, I am ready to help our countrymen, especially our ‘hand-to-mouth’ countrymen, the poor who are hungry because their livelihood is affected by the oil spill,” Go reassured. “This should not happen again and let those responsible be made to account for their mistakes. We should also act fast to prevent the oil spill from going to other islands or provinces.”
Lawyers want accountability
Meanwhile, a group of lawyers have raise their concern over what they claim as “the lackluster response of the government in addressing the oil spill contamination ravaging our seas, biodiversity, health and income of affected coastal residents in Oriental Mindoro.
“In a statement signed by different lawyers, led by Oceana Vice President Gloria Ramos, said that the oil spill is a grave evolving environmental catastrophe that has caused significant harm to the sacred ecosystems in the area and has affected the lives and livelihood of local communities who depend upon fishing and tourism for their income and is posing serious health risks, and is compromising the well-being of the people including the elderly, the women and the children.
The statement added that the Verde Island Passage, which can be broadly damaged by the oil spill according to a study by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, is an ecologically significant and one of the most highly productive ecosystems in the Philippines.
“The protection and conservation of this area should be a top priority for the government,” the lawyers said.” The oil spill contamination is a devastating threat to the marine biodiversity of the Verde Island Passage. The government must take immediate and effective measures to address this ecological nightmare and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future by ensuring that our laws and regulations are strictly enforced.” The lawyers also said that the spillage is a disaster of national and international proportions, and urgently call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to take immediate action and declare a state of national calamity in the affected areas to provide necessary relief and assistance to the affected communities. They suggested that immediate action is to thoroughly assess the impact area and contain the oil spill. Likewise, whole-of-nation actions are needed to address the urgent needs of affected communities, including providing adequate compensation, short-term and long-term health care, and rehabilitation measures.
“We demand a thorough investigation into this disaster and hold accountable those responsible, including those in agencies who were in dereliction of their duties.
There should be transparency and strict accountability in the conduct of the impartial investigation and full disclosure of parties involved in this mess. It was only owing to a Senate inquiry that critical details finally came to light two weeks after the tragedy struck, such as the relevant permits, or the lack thereof, of the shipowner RDC Reield Marines Services Inc., the necessary measures taken to ensure the seaworthiness of the tanker MT Princess Empress, and the lack of clear coordination among the government agencies supposed to be responding to this disaster,” the lawyers said.
WITH REPORTS FROM IRE JOE V.C. LAURENTE
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Author: Javier Joe Ismael