Groups demand accountability for Mindoro oil spill

By Nuel M. Bacarra

A network of residents, fisher folk, youth, civil society, people’s organization, faith-based and multi-sectoral groups trooped to the House of Representative on Monday, May 29, to decry the inaction of the government on holding the RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC) accountable for the oil spill near Mindoro island.

The Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP) network also called RDC, owner of the sunken vessel MT Princess Empress, and the vessel’s charterer SMC-subdiary SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation as “environment polluters”.

SMC’s high-profile president and chief executive officer Ramon Ang earlier revealed his company is among the customers of MT Princess Empress.

“This national disaster has been going on for three long months, but we fear that it is still not being treated as one. While government dilly-dallies in exacting accountability and justice, the damage to Verde Island Passage’s ecosystem and resulting impacts on stakeholders continue to worsen. Companies responsible for this must be punished,” Protect VIP lead convenor Fr. Edwin Gariguez said.

Protect VIP was in House of Representatives to attend the joint hearing of the Committees on Ecology and Natural Resources and registered their disappointment for the lack of sanctions for RDC and SMC and the urgency of assistance to the affected sectors.

“It is not only oil that continues to leak into VIP but also our culture of impunity. I stand here as one with my hometown of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, one of the hard-hit towns by the oil spiil and fishing bans, in demanding that RDC and SMC be held liable for their actions,’ said Leody de Guzman of Partido Lakas ng Masa.

“For 90 days, they managed to evade any form of accountability. They don’t even have the courtesy of properly showing their faces in Congress hearings while fisher folk representatives travel far and long to attend. Mahiya naman kayo, RDC at SMC,” de Guzman added. (Have you no shame, RDC and SMC?)

Meanwhile, the Southern Tagalog Serve the People Corps (STPC) reiterated the call for justice on the people and on the devastating impact on the environment of the oil spill in the island of Mindoro.

Specifically, the organization holds the RDC responsible for the catastrophe brought about by the oil spill when MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro last February 28.

The provinces of Batangas and Palawan as well as the Western Visayas region were affected by the spill with damages to the livelihood and environment estimated at around P7 billion in the last three months.

“Nananawagan ang STPC sa MARINA, PCG at iba pang ahensya ng gobyerno na suportahan ang mga mamamayan sa pagkaso laban sa may-ari ng barko. Sa loob ng tatlong buwan, tila walang balak ang RDC Reield Marine Services na managot dahil isang beses lamang ito sumipot sa patawag na inquiry ng kongreso,” the group’s statement said.

(STPC is calling the attention of MARINA, PCG and other government agencies to support the people in filing a case against the owner of ship. In three months, RDC Reield Marine Services seemed to abandon its responsibility because it did not attend to the congressional inquiry.)

“Hindi naramdaman ng mga mamamayan ang kompensasyon at pag-ako ng responsibilidad ng RDC Reield Marine Services sa sakunang idinulot nila kahit pa naririyan ang RA 9483 o Oil Pollution Compensation Act at iba pang batas pangkalikasan,” it added.

(The people do not see compensation and responsibility coming from RDC Reield Marine Services despite the existence of RA 9483 or Oil Pollution Compensation Act and other environmental laws.)

Department of Defense senior undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. announced on Friday that the national government has cleaned up over 84% of the coastline affected by the oil spill in Mindoro as of May 10 and a siphoning vessel from Singapore is expected to arrive by the end of the month to remove the remaining oil inside the sunken vessel.

Oil removal operations are set to begin in the first week of June, which is estimated to last for 30 days, Galvez added.

The arrival of vessel has been confirmed by Gov. Humerlito “Bonz” Dolor.

Dolor also announced last May 28 the lifting of the fishing ban on most municipalities except for the municipalities of Naujan, Pola and Pinamalayan.

Emergency Cash Transfer will be given starting June 1 amounting to P12,000.00 for fisher folk with boats registered with Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Despite announcements of additional support to affected families, STPC said it demands more assistance and alternative livelihood for the victims.

The group also joined the call for more accountability from RDC Reield Marine Services.

Around 6,874 familes from 26 affected barangay in six Oriental Mindoro municipalities has filed for compensation claims. #