Groups supporting the plight of victims of Guimaras oil spill tragedy last year have asked lawmakers to pass a law that would focus on the rehabilitation of Guimaras and other affected areas over the next three years, adding that the proposed fund of P10 billion for rehabilitation should come from Petron Corp.
BY GERRY ALBERT CORPUZ
Vol. VII, No. 28, August 19-25, 2007
Nueva Valencia, Guimaras Island – Groups supporting the plight of victims of Guimaras oil spill tragedy last year have asked lawmakers to pass a law that would focus on the rehabilitation of Guimaras and other affected areas over the next three years, adding that the proposed fund of P10 billion ($214.59 million based on an exchange rate of $1:P46.60 as of Aug. 17) for rehabilitation should come from Petron Corp.
In a joint press statement, a copy of which was sent to Bulatlat, the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines) and the Iloilo-based Save Our Lives, S.O.S! – Panay and Guimaras alliance appealed to senators and congressmen to enact a bill they initially referred to as the Guimaras Rehabilitation Act
Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap and Ms. Geobelyn Lopez, convenor of Save Our Lives, S.O.S!- Panay and Guimaras said the rehabilitation fund for Guimaras oil spill should not come from taxpayers’ money. They said the law would require Petron Corp. to fund the P10-billion peso three-year Guimaras rehabilitation plan beginning the last quarter of 2007.
“Let this appeal reaches the halls of both Congress. The people of Guimaras want Petron Corp. to shoulder the costs of rehabilitation and that’s their collective sentiment and interest. Our group is just echoing the voices from the grassroots,” they said.
Last Aug. 11, Pamalakaya and Save Our Lives, S.O.S! – Panay and Guimaras conducted a consultation forum in the municipality of Nueva Valencia coinciding with the first anniversary of the Guimaras oil spill tragedy. The forum was attended by local officials of Nueva Valencia and some 100 oil spill victims.
Pamalakaya and the Panay and Guimaras environmental group proposed that under the Guimaras Rehabilitation Act, P6 billion ($128.76) of the P10-billion Guimaras Rehabilitation Fund would be used for environmental and marine biodiversity rehabilitation.
The groups said the remaining P4 billion ($85.84 million) would be spent for the economic rehabilitation, with P2 billion ($42.92 million) to be allocated for the first year of implementation, P1 billion ($29.5 million) for second year and P1 billion for the last year. “At all cost, Petron should be obligated to finance the comprehensive rehabilitation of Guimaras,” they said.
Petron’s P 18 million reimbursement for clean-up costs questioned
“Where is Petron and IOPCF’s sense of justice? Where in this part of the planet did the IOPCF get its horrible idea that Petron should be compensated for the costs of the clean up? This is extremely detestable,” Pamalakaya’s Hicap said in his letter to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPCF)
Hicap learned that during the 37th session of the Executive Committee of IOPCF held from June 12-15, the London-based international compensation group had accepted the application of Petron for reimbursement initially pegged at P196 million ($4.2 million). The IOPCF provisionally assessed Petron’s costs of clean up for P118 million ($2.53 million), and that interim payment for the amount had been sent to the oil company.
The Pamalakaya leader in his letter dated Aug. 13, 2007 to IPOCF claims manager Patrick Joseph, Mr. John Gillies, chairman of the IOPCF Executive Committee, Mr. Leonce Michel Ogandaga, vice chair of the Executive Committee and Mr. Willem Oosterveen, the IOPCF executive director urged the international oil compensation group to take back the interim payment it made to Petron Corp. and nullify its previous decision granting Petron’s claim for the cost of clean-up.
“Please allow us to question and assail this act of IOPCF. The act is grossly immoral and totally unfair to the victims of Guimaras oil spill tragedy. A direct assault to the people’s quest for truth, justice and fair play,” Hicap said in his letter.
The Pamalakaya letter to IOPCF officers also reads: “For the benefit of IOPCF officials, please allow us to state the findings of the Special Board of Marine Inquiry. The MT Solar 1 captain Norberto Aguro was not a licensed oil tanker master, which led him to violate and disregard regulations, policies and requirements for seaworthiness. The owner of MT Solar 1 and Petron were declared liable for overloading the vessel. These findings were upheld by the Philippine Senate, when it conducted its own inquiry last year.”
Last February, the SBMI created a special body to determine the circumstances surrounding the sinking of MT Solar 1, which was carrying 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel when it sunk nine miles southwest of Guimaras Island on Aug.11 last year.
Pamalakaya asserted that Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., the owners of MT Solar 1 and Petron were guilty of violating the Clean Air Act of 1999, the Clean Water Act of 2004 and the Ecological Waste Management Act of 2000 – acts that prompted the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) and the Philippine Senate to recommend the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against the owners and top officials of Sunshine Maritime and Patron Corp.
“The decision of IOPCF to reimburse Petron for the costs of the clean up is unfair, unwarranted and lacked legal and moral merits,” the group said.
Pamalakaya also scored the IOPCF for rejecting the second batch of claimants numbering to 100,000 – of which 32,500 claimants came from Nueva Valencia, the most affected coastal town in Guimaras province. The oil pollution compensation group had so far paid a total of P177 million ($3.9 million) to 22,000 oil spill victims.
“To address this issue, we ask the IOPCF leadership to take back the P118 million in total claims the oil compensation group had awarded to Petron Corp., and instead allocate this amount for the damage claims made by affected fisherfolk and residents, who were victimized by Petron’s endless appetite for super profits,” Pamalakaya said.
P 863 million Guimaras rehab funds, missing?
During the consultation held in Nueva Valencia, oil spill victims told Pamalakaya and Iloilo based environmental groups the national government and the local governments of Guimaras have not implemented the promised rehabilitation projects this year for affected people of the island province.
The national government through President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release P863 million ($18.52 million) for the rehabilitation of Guimaras.
The P863-million fund will be allocated to the Department of Agriculture (P100 million/$2.95 million), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (P30 million), Department of Health (P22 million/$472,103), Department of Social Work and Development (P247 million/$5.3 million), Department of Interior and Local Government (P250 million/$5.36 million), UP-Visayas (P50 million/$1.07 million) and other government agencies (P64 million/$1.37 million).
The DBM released 30 percent of the budget for Guimaras rehabilitation and promised to release the remaining 70 percent or P 663.5 million ($14.24 million) after the election period. But three months after the May 14 elections, people of Guimaras told Pamalakaya and the Iloilo City based environment group that no rehabilitation projects were undertaken by concerned government agencies and local government units.
Petron’s “super roadshow presentation”
Fisherfolk and affected residents of the Guimaras oil spill said Petron Corp. was merely engaged in massive propaganda blitz to repair its damaged reputation in the internal community.
Pamalakaya said Petron tarpaulins were placed all over Jordan wharf in Guimaras Island telling the people and the island’s visitors that it is helping the people of Guimaras to rebuild their lives by constructing a small school, a mini-library and a refilling Petron station in the island’s province capital.
“It is just a super roadshow presentation. The mother of all pettiness,” the group said.
Senate, House probe on Guimaras sought
Pamalakaya and Save our Lives, S.O.S!-Panay and Guimaras last week sought an audience with Sen. Jamby Madrigal and Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teodoro Casiño, urging both lawmakers to spearhead a full-blown inquiry on the Guimaras oil spill tragedy.
In their letter submitted to Madrigal, both groups listed an 18-point agenda justifying the revival of the Senate investigation on the Guimaras oil spill including the recent move of the Iloilo provincial prosecutor’s office dismissing the class suit filed against Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., the owners of MT Solar 1 oil tanker and Petron Corp. for lack of evidence.
Pamalakaya and the Iloilo environmental alliance asserted that the Office of the President and the Department of Justice (DoJ) in a vain attempt to save the corporate owners of Petron and Sunshine Maritime from criminal suits, pressured and ordered the provincial prosecutor’s office to thwart the legal action against Petron and owners of MT Solar 1.
“The prosecutor’s office in Iloilo will not act against the Guimaras people’s case against Petron and Sunshine Maritime without the tall order from Malacañang and DoJ,” they said.
The groups likewise requested Casiño’s office to sponsor a resolution urging the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources headed by Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo to conduct a full-blown inquiry on the Aug. 11, 2006 Guimaras oil spill tragedy.
“Let us see how this Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo minion or puppet will work in his first daring assignment,” the groups said.(Bulatlat.com)