June 18, 2010
The sinking of British Pestroleum-leased Deepwater Horizon oil-rig in the Gulf of Mexico last April, dubbed as the worst oil spill in US history, has caused catastrophic damage to the marine environment and to communities in surrounding areas. More damage spreads as millions of gallons of oil leak into the gulf daily and BP remains stalled by lack of emergency plans and safety mechanisms.
Closer to home, we can’t help but weigh the likeliness of a similar disaster occurring in Philippine waters. What are the conditions that place our country in high risk to similar ecological disasters?
First, there are many existing areas where similar marine disasters can possibly take place. As of 2009, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued 69 petroleum service contracts covering a total of 28 million hectares of our territory. Twenty one million hectares of these are seascapes and marine areas in ciritical biodiversity rich areas, including the Visayan Sea, Bohol Sea, Panay Gulf, Sulu Sea and Palawan Passage. This increase of petroleum projects is one result of the current government policy to privatize our energy and marine resources through giving away service contracts for foreign and private companies to explore and extract oil and gas within Philippine territory.
Second, our own government remains ineffective as far as policy and programs for environmental safeguards and disaster management are concerned. Oil spills are common ‘accidents’ in the country: remember the 2005 Semirara Oil spill by NAPOCOR, 2006 Guimaras Oil Spill by Petron and the 2008 sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars off the coast of Romblon, which was transporting the highly toxic Endosulfan as cargo.
Third, the government remains lax in prosecuting environmental criminals. In the marine disasters mentioned above, justice and compensation has until now not been granted to all victims, such as fisherfolks. There is lack of comprehensive rehabilitation to address the ecological destruction the disasters have caused. The corporations and government officials responsible were not held accountable for the disasters.
Even known big polluters are allowed to control our resources and operate in the country. For example, one service contract was given to Exxon Mobil to explore and extract oil and natural gas within 865,000 hectares in the Sulu Sea, estimated to have between 1.3 billion and 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Exxon Mobil is ranked by Global Fortune in 2010 as the biggest company in the world, but is also the culprit behind one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history, the Valdez Oil Spill which spilled an estimated minimum 40.9 million liters, or 250,000 barrels of crude oil in Alaska.
The underlying reality behind all these—that the government continues to coddle entities bent on pursuing profit at the expense of communities and the environment—creates the risks and conditions that make our waters vulnerable to more ecological disasters.
We thus call on the new Aquino administration to act swiftly to protect our marine environment and coastal communities. Specifically, immediately cancel all the service contracts given to proven environmental polluters, declare a moratorium on the exploitation of oil and gas resources in biodiversity-rich marine areas, rehabilitate areas ecologically devastated by oil spills particularly Guimaras and Antique, and lastly, give justice to the victims of marine disasters in the Philippines.
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)