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. #

Farmers angry over dismissal of coco levy graft charge vs. ‘plunderers’

While chief presidential counsel Juan Ponce Enrile rejoiced, farmers fumed at the Supreme Court (SC) decision dismissing the P840.7 million graft case against those accused of misusing the controversial Coconut Industry Development Fund (CIDF, the coco levy fund).

Reacting to the high court’s decision, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the dismissal of the charges against Enrile and others accused is a great disservice and direct affront to small coconut farmers and their heirs

Sana naisip din ng Korte Suprema ang kapakanan at kinabukasan ng mga magniniyog at ng kanilang mga tagapagmana na lampas limang dekada nang naghihintay na maibalik sa kanila at mapakinabangan man lang nila ang pondo ng coco levy. Naghihintay pa rin ang mga magniniyog na maibalik sa kanila ang coco levy,” the KMP said.

(The SC should have thought about the welfare and future of the coconut farmers and their heirs who have waited for more than five decades for their monies to be given back to them.)

In finally issuing a decision on the 33-year old case, the SC ordered the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to dismiss the charges against Enrile as there had been a clear violation of his right to speedy disposition of cases.

Other respondents in the graft case were Jose C. Concepcion, Rolando Dela Cuesta, Narciso M. Pineda, and Danilo S. Ursua.

The same ruling also ordered the dismissal of the graft case against Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., Jose Eleazar Jr., Maria Clara Lobregat, and Augusto Orosa “due to their supervening deaths.”

In an interview by GMA Integrated News, Enrile thanked the high court for its decision, saying there had been no hearings conducted.

“It was not a case of speedy trial; it was already a case of no trial,” he said in Filipino.

Enrile also justified their use of billions of pesos from the coco levy fund, explaining the money funded the establishment of the United Coconut Planters Fund, bought San Miguel Corporation shares, bought coconut oil mills as spent on interventions to solve the scarcity of coconut oil products during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. presidency.

The KMP however said that all Enrile and his co-accused did was extort the fund from small coconut farmers and plundered for their personal interests.

“[The] coco levy fund scam will be forever regarded as the scam of the century perpetrated by the Marcoses and their cronies,” the KMP said.

The farmers’ group added that the dismissal of graft charges against Enrile and others have victimized the farmers all over again.

“Who will afford them (small coconut farmers) the same consideration that the SC granted Enrile et. al. All administrations post-Marcos Sr. failed to return the coco levy fund to its rightful owners — the coconut farmers and their heirs,” KMP said.

The coco levy fund was sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government under the Corazon Aquino government that filed the graft charges against Enrile and others in February 1990.

The fund has since grown and is estimated to be worth P75 billion pesos. The Rodrigo Duterte administration however transformed the fund into a privatized investment account that the KMP said poor coconut farmers cannot control, manage, nor take benefit from. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bongbong’s first veto surprises, raises questions

The Marcoses and San Miguel Corporation have a shared history

It did not take long for new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to exercise his veto power and against a bill seen as favorable to an entity long associated with his family: San Miguel Corporation (SMC). And it raised quick questions from one of his family’s long-time nemesis.

Marcos sent a letter to the Senate on July 1—his first day in office—explaining his opposition to the proposed law creating the Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport spearheaded by SMC. Marcos said he sees “substantial fiscal risks” in the proposal as well as inconsistencies with existing tax laws that focus more on income generation for the government.

“While this administration recognizes the objective of the proposed measure to accelerate economic growth in its locality, I cannot support the bill considering the provisions that pose substantial fiscal risks to the country and its infringement on or conflict with other agencies’ mandates and authorities,” the President wrote.

The veto, however, raised questions from one of his family’s long-time nemesis, Jose Maria Sison, who wondered about Marcos’ real motive.

‘Run-away cronies’

Reacting to the news of the veto, Marcos martial law survivor Sison asked: Is the Marcos family trying to take back controlling stocks in the SMC it allegedly entrusted to the long-time chairperson of the conglomerate: Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco.

Cojuangco was regarded as among the closest cronies of the late dictator Marcos Sr. who spearheaded the Coconut Levy Fund from 1973 to 1985 worth billions of pesos. Cojuangco later used the fund to acquire and take control of both the United Coconut Planters’ Bank and the SMC.

The Corazon Aquino government, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), said Cojuangco served Marcos family’s financial interests through the bank and the conglomerate.

In a September 2012 decision, the Supreme court affirmed that the 27% block of SMC shares were government-owned, worth at least P71 billion at the time. The coconut farmers who were forced to contribute to the funds said the money should be given back to them.

Cojuangco died in June 2020 at the age of 85.  

Long-time SMC vice chairperson and chief operating officer Ramon Ang succeeded as chairperson and chief operating officer in June 2012 after reportedly acquiring Cojuangco’s stock shares. It is under Ang that the Bulacan ecozone project started in 2018 with a corporate life of at least 50 years.  

The project’s centerpiece is SMC’s P740-billion New Manila International Airport, capable of up to 100 million passengers per year and is expected to rival Philippines’ main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  


‘Entirely his’  

Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla in a radio interview Monday morning said the president’s veto is entirely his decision, saying the president sees the proposed measure as disadvantageous to government. Remulla said the measure, known in the 18th Congress as House Bill 7575, will give ten years of tax incentives to SMC while similar measures only offer five to six years.  

Once signed into law, the government would surrender much of its oversight powers on the airport and freeport to the powerful conglomerate, Remulla added.  

As expected, Ang defended the project, saying the Bulacan economic zone will be managed by government while its tax incentives will still require Department of Finance review and approval.

“My intention is to help create (a) science and technology export hub with cheapest logistics cost because of nearest airport and Manila seaport. World-class semiconductor manufacturing power battery storage, manufacturing electric vehicles (and) manufacturing and modular nuclear power assembly plants target to export $200 billion annually to help our GDP (gross domestic product) growth,” Ang told The Philippine Star.  

In a later statement, press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said President Marcos fully supports the project and his decision to veto is meant to cure its “defects”.

“Presidential Veto is fastest way to cure the defects of HB 7575 especially the provision which exempts the Commission on Audit to look into the financial transactions on the special economic zone and freeport,” Angeles said. “Had the President not vetoed the HB 7575, it would have lapsed into law on July 4 or 30 days after the bill was sent by the legislature to Malacanang,” she added.

Former Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he will advise incumbent senators to re-file the bill without the provisions objectionable to Marcos.

Sison however said the new President is likely already spending time running after so-called run-away cronies like Cojuangco who may not have given back assets entrusted to them, in much the same way that the PCGG “ran after Marcos loot hidden under multi-layered schemes to conceal ownership.”  

“The Ecozone will be revived as soon as the issue is settled behind the scenes?” Sison asked. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)          

Reclamation project tinututulan ng mga taga-Taliptip

Isang kilos-protesta ang isinagawa ng mga residente ng Sitio Taliptip sa Bulakan, Bulacan sa harapan ng Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 3 sa San Fernando, Pampanga.

Nanawagan sila sa ahensya na ipawalang-bisa ang Environmental Compliance Certificate ng Silvertides Holdings na siyang sub-contractor ng San Miguel Corporation para sa pagtatayo ng New Manila International Airport o Aerotropolis sa nasabing lugar.

Tinatayang nasa 1,000 pamilya ang mawawalan ng tirahan gayundin na ang hanapbuhay ay pangingisda. Masisira din ang mga bakawan at ilang yamang tubig sa nasabing isla.

Ang Bulacan Aerotropolis ay isa mga proyekto ng pamahalaang Duterte sa ilalim ng Build, Build, Build Program. Bibigyan ng Department of Transportation ang San Miguel Corporation para pamahalaan ang konstruksyon ng Aerotropolis. (Music: news background. Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Saving Taliptip

by Leon Dulce

Obando Fishport was bustling with activity at 6:00 in the morning. A colorful and tightly packed flotilla has gathered, fishing boats carefully slipping and sliding past each other to get their turn at docking.

 The bustle slowly fades to an idyllic backwater as we travelled via pump boat to the coastal village of Taliptip in Bulakan town, Bulacan province. Its surrounding seas is life to some 5,000 mostly fishers and salt-makers. It is from the gentle waters and mangrove corridors where they get their bounty of fish, mussels, crabs, shrimp, and krill.

On this collection of small island communities, a 2,500-hectare reclamation project by the San Miguel Corporation is being aggressively pursued, threatening to convert everything in its wake into a an aerotropolis complex of airports, expressways, and urban expanse.

 The project was a well-kept secret from Taliptip’s residents until concerned environmental advocates and church workers raised the issue among the communities—and until President Rodrigo Duterte was seen in the news already inking the project’s deal.

 Residents, especially the families who have lived in the village over the past 80 years, are concerned that their life and livelihood are under threat by this project.

A fisherman tending to his nets in Taliptip. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

“So long as the sea is here, there is hope…What will we fish when all this is turned into cement?” said Arthur*, a fisherman from Sitio Kinse, an island community of Taliptip ensconced in a dense shroud of mangroves.

 Arthur shared that the average fish catch for a day would net them around 500 pesos. Deductions from their gross income will be used to defray gasoline and other expenses and pay their boat consigner’s share. During the dry seasons, some fishers tend to the salt fields and get 154 to 254 pesos as payment per sack depending on the quality of the salt.

 A good day’s catch is a rarity nowadays, however. Gloria*, a woman resident of Sitio Dapdap, explained that fishing families usually stock up their live catch in makeshift pens and sell these on a weekly basis. A daily trip to and from the central market in Obando is simply too expensive compared to the dwindling daily catch.

A section of the Bulakan Mangrove Eco-Park. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

The hardships push the people of Taliptip to be sustainable by necessity. Living off the grid, residents pooled their resources to set up solar panels and batteries for their simple electricity needs. The residents take care of the mangroves since the shellfish they harvest live among its roots, and serve as a natural barrier to big waves.

 Aside from a 25-hectare eco-park established by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), various other stretches of mangroves are spreadt across Taliptip’s waters. A huge population of birds such as terns, egrets, kingfishers, and swallows make a home out of these trees.

A plethora of birds roosting over makeshift structures put up by fisherfolk. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

It is not hard to see the importance of these coastal greenbelts. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the lead agency that approved the reclamation project, however, apparently has a diametrically-opposed view.

 San Miguel has pronounced that it can payroll entirely for the P735.6-billion aerotropolis, a hefty price tag that must have been the clincher. That amount seemed enough to justify ignoring the thousands of people set to be displaced and the ecologically critical vegetation to be converted.

A portion of a stretch of mangroves allegedly cut by San Miguel personnel. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

Early this year, the Duterte government also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Dutch government to cooperate in the crafting of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP). The cart came before the horse, however, with projects such as the aerotropolis rapidly progressing without the guidance of a comprehensive sustainable development and management framework.

San Miguel personnel were reportedly behind a massive mangrove-cutting spree in Taliptip two weeks ago. Communities had no idea if the cutting had a special tree cutting permit from the DENR, as required by law.

 Almost 30,000 hectares of such projects presently cover the entire length of the bay.

A fisherman off the port of Obando. Proposed reclamation projects span the entire coastline of Manila Bay. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

For Arthur, defending the only livelihood they know from the real threat of reclamation is non-negotiable. “We will not leave our homes. We will fight so long as there are people supporting us and giving us strength to fight,” he declared.

Environment groups and churches are digging in deep with the communities for the struggle to save Taliptip and various other communities across Manila Bay. Will Duterte stand with the people and stick to his rhetoric against reclamation, or will he bow once again to the oligarchs it has vowed to stand up against?#

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Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). Follow the local people’s struggle to save Taliptip on Facebook, or through the hashtag #SaveTaliptip on Twitter.

*Real names withheld for security purposes