Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

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Guimaras launches drive against mining activities

August 13, 2008

JORDAN, Guimaras – Stickers and streamers emblazoned with “Spare Guimaras” have appeared in this province marking the start of a campaign against mining activities in the island.

Guimaras Gov. Felipe Nava said they will launch the campaign against approved and pending applications for mining in the province because of its environmental and health effects.

The applications cover from 70 to 80 percent of the 60,000-hectare island with applications covering from 2,000 to 30,000 hectares, according to the governor.

“This will destroy the island,” Nava said here yesterday at the sidelines of the briefing on rehabilitation efforts on areas affected by the August 2006 oil spill.

Guimaras is known for its pristine beaches, export quality mangoes and richness in natural resources. (Click here for the rest.)

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DENR scored for diverting funds for Guimaras

August 12, 2008

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau, PDI
08/12/2008

JORDAN, GUIMARAS – Guimaras officials have scored the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for implementing oil spill rehabilitation projects in areas not affected by the oil spill.

Guimaras Gov. Felipe Nava said the DENR had implemented livelihood projects using rehabilitation funds even in communities that were hardly affected by the Aug. 11, 2006 oil spill.

“I’m not contented with what’s happening. We are in the dark and we don’t know if these are beneficial to the people of Guimaras. I think we should correct this (because) we are wasting precious money,” Nava said during a presentation of updates on the rehabilitation programs marking the second anniversary of the oil spill held on Monday. (Click here for the rest.)

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OIL SPILL DAMAGE

August 11, 2008

Guimaras recovering but non-release of funds stalls rehab

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau, PDI
08/11/2008

GUIMARAS ISLAND—Two years after a massive oil spill hit this island-province, officials and experts said the island is showing recovery and coping from the impact of the calamity.

But rehabilitation efforts have been stalled by the non-release of around P150 million intended for development programs.

“Our activities are back to normal,” Guimaras Gov. Felipe Nava told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

He said residents in all areas affected by the oil spill have gone back to fishing. (Click here for the rest.)

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Fishpond operators, seaweed growers still await compensation

January 10, 2008

By Erly C. Garcia
The News Today
Jan. 8, 2008

The provincial government of Guimaras is not giving up on its move to ask the London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) to pay the compensation claims of fishpond operators and seaweed growers in the province.

Rep. JC Rahman Nava, in an interview last week, said they are exhausting all the legal remedies to also include fishpond operators and seaweed growers in the oil spill compensation.

Last year, IOPCF rejected 6,090 claims from seaweed farmers and only accepted 299 applications. The Fund said that when they investigated the claims, “it became apparent that a large number of these claimants were not involved in seaweed farming at the time of the incident.”

IOPCF also rejected the claims of the nearly 126,000 residents of Guimaras because of some irregularities.

When asked if the rejected claimants still have the chance to receive compensation, Nava said it is up to the IOPCF.

The congressman said they left with the IOPCF the validation of applicants for compensation claims.

He said the IOPCF have set their own criteria which is based on international standards.

To note, out of the 125,614 second batch claimants from Guimaras, only 134 were accepted and were offered compensation totaling P1.4 million.

The Fund also accepted only 8,434 claims out of the 15,850 second batch claimants from municipalities in Iloilo.

The claims were rejected because they were incomplete and a significant number were from people under the age of 18 years, which is the minimum age at which people are allowed to engage in fishing in the country.

The IOPCF had earlier also raised concern over the number of claimants in Guimaras saying it was improbable that the oil spill had affected 80 percent of the island’s population of around 154,000.

The IOPCF has paid a total of P906,669,648 in compensation for economic losses and refund for expenses in the clean-up and preventive measures in relation to the Aug. 11. 2006 sinking of the M/T Solar I off the coasts of Guimaras.

The sinking triggered a massive oil spill after the tankers’s cargo of 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel were spilled contaminating marine resources and dislocating thousands of residents mostly dependent on fishing for their livelihood.

The Fund had receive claims totaling P2,514,425,538

It paid 22,307 claims amounting to P174,176,143 as compensation for economic losses for Guimaras and Iloilo residents. The Fund also paid P2,186,658 to 57 claimants from the island’s tourism sector. and P2,142,301 to 74 claims in property damages.

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Group doubts DENR report on mangrove recovery in Guimaras

August 30, 2007

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A fisherman in Guimaras rows his boat while looking for an area where to catch fish. (Photo by A.Chris Fernandez)

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, Aug. 30, 2007

A nationwide militant alliance of fisherfolks has raised doubts on a government report showing that mangroves contaminated by last year’s massive oil spill in Guimaras are showing signs of resiliency and recovery.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said it wanted a “second opinion” on the state of the mangroves in Guimaras in reaction to a study of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that showed the natural recovery of mangroves.

“Everybody loves a welcome news. But we doubt the credibility of the DENR. It has performed its role to the hilt as no.1 apologist for Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp, owners of MT Solar 1. That’s why we want an honest-to-goodness second opinion,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in an e-mailed statement.

The assessment of the DENR in Western Visayas conducted in June18-29 showed “significant signs of recovery” of mangroves in areas affected by the oil spill. The report had said that new leaves have grown on affected mangrove trees and those previously monitored as having completelty defoliated.

The asssessment is the third conducted in mangrove areas that were contaminated after the Solar I sank on Aug. 11, 2006 and spilled around 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.

Scientists are closely monitoring the impact of the massive contamination of mangroves by bunker fuel in Guimaras because there has been no previous studies and researches on the long-term effect of oil spill on mangroves and the ecosystem in the country.

Hicap said an independent scientific study must be done to verify the June 18-29 study conducted by DENR. “The assessment made by the DENR could be motivated by interest groups which want to eliminate the ghosts of last year’s Guimaras oil spill tragedy.”

He said a casual inspection conducted by Pamalakaya and the Iloilo-based environmental group Save Our Lives, S.O.S-Panay and Guimaras last August 11 belied the DENR study.

“What we saw were mangrove areas under the state of catastrophe. We are not scientists, but we know how to distinguish what is real and what is fake,” said Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Albert Corpuz.

A rapid assessment study of an inter-agency team conducted shortly after the oil spill said around 647.98 hectares of mangroves in Guimaras were affected by the oil spill. Of this area, around 468 ha were heavily affected and 179.8 ha were considered slightly affected.

Scientists at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), which is spearheading the scientific researches on the impact of the oil spill, earlier said the rehabilitation and recovery of marine life contaminated by the oil slick could take 10 to 20 years.

Pamalakaya and Save Our Lives, S.O.S- Panay and Guimaras is also calling on legislators to pass a law creating a P10-billion rehabilitation fund for Guimaras that will be utilized over the next three years.

Hicap said the fund should come from giant oil firm Petron Corp. and not from taxpayers’ money. The groups are accusing Petron of being liable for the oil spill, an allegation repeatedly denied by the oil firm.

“The people of Guimaras want Petron Corp. to shoulder the costs of rehabilitation and that’s their collective sentiment and interest. Our groups are just echoing the voices from the grassroots,” the two groups said in a join statement.

They said that of the amount, P6 billion would be used for environmental and marine biodiversity rehabilitation while the rest would be spent for the economic rehabilitation.

Hicap noted the bulk of the government’s P863-million fund allocated by Congress last year and intended for the rehabilitation of the affected areas has not been released a year after the oil spill.

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Editorial

August 12, 2007

MODERNITY VS. THE ENVIRONMENT

The clash of Modern Living of the 21st Century and Environment Preservation is happening in our lifetime. Just look around you – people in Loon, Tagbilaran City and Albur.

Let’s start with the oil exploration issue. The sneaky Australia-based oil explorer (Otto Energy Ltd) mother company of the even sneakier NorAsian Energy Ltd proudly announced it had discovered potential commercial oil recoverables in the Argao-Cabilao in the amount of 270 million barrels. Fine.

The Department of Energy quickly gave them a deadline to start drilling and end by March 2009. Fine.

But wait a minute. Wasn’t this the same consortium that – after having agreed with the stakeholders of the issue: fisher folks, LGU, environmentalists, tourism defenders that no seismic survey will be done without resolving issues – did one anyway on the sly -with a little help from scheming and public-insensitive officials and judges?

And hey, has any Bohol official looked at the fine print of the LGU sharing agreement in the oil find so that the terse complaint aired by the Palawan governor Joel Reyes over Station DYRD that his province never got its fair share in the deal leading to a pending case in the Supreme Court – will no likewise happen to our beloved Bohol?

One cannot be termed over-critical when past facts and antecedents point to grossly irregular ethical behavior of certain companies, industries and officials. What NorAsian did in the sinister seismic survey and the highway robbery of Palawan are not the imaginings of the fertile minds of paranoid environmental warriors. They are all well documented.

Everyone is well aware that an oil find as it did in Texas many years ago -exploded commerce beyond every Texan’s imagination.But they paid precious little price for it.

What about elsewhere?

Oil explorations and rigs can cause oil spills -that is a grim possibility. Let’s not go too far and see what has happened to Guimaras island -victim of the country’s largest oil spill.

Because of the spill , the Barangay Tando, fishermen who used to catch 30 kilos a day (average) – now Mang Ambo can hardly get two kilos.

The fish has gone.Some folks were compensated P 14,000 which could not even buy a boat and fish net. The BFAR could not even say if the shell in the area is edible.

Tourism had suffered when for months the blue was murky with greyish black ink – though most have settled in coves nearby. Mangroves were destroyed and the seaweed industry was crushed. Even the mango population was threatened because water under the ground was contaminated costing millions of pesos in disinfectants to the government. For a while water was not potable. We know because we have met some of the suppliers of the disinfectants.

It is a worst case scenario, true – but it can happen. We have prided our Bohol to have tourism as our flagship industry – is it endangered now? Who is seriously looking into this? Despite denials, scientific proof had surfaced there were already negative effects of the seismic survey on marine life and biodiversity.

In the same vein, Rep Edgar Chatto (chair of Tourism in the House) should explain in detail and reconcile how the handsomely presented International Cruise Port in Cabilao island (in the same town of Loon) – engineered by the Philippine Ports Authority – will fare with all those oil rig structures and barges crisscrossing the sea path once the oil exploration begins in 2009.

This is serious matter that capsulizes the ongoing struggle between modernity and the environment as this editorial postulates as a title. Public vigilance must continue.

What about the promised Water Treatment of City Mayor Dan Lim to prevent the cascading of waste and impurities to the clear Bohol waters of Tagbilaran Bay and the city sea port? Where is it? Has the city SP prepared a budget for it? This the mayor must give this importance because the Bay serves as a showcase to all visitors who after all give business to the city and the province.

The Water Treatment project may not be as thrilling and visible as a spanking new Agora edifice in downtown CPG but the long-term impact on the environment -and tourism in general – of such project cannot be overstated.

Finally, we must find a closure to the Sanitary Landfill debate over the Albur location.Modern living creates waste every day -whether we like it or not -and we have to dispose them. A city and a prime island tourist destination like Panglao without a regular sanitary landfill is unacceptable.

The issues of just compensation, water protection of Albur sources, and a fair billing system for users should put the issue to rest. We can start being less parochial in our thoughts, perhaps.No town is an island – sufficient unto itself. Shalom. (The Bohol Chronicle, Aug. 12, 2007)

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Where have all the fish gone?

August 11, 2007

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Fisherman Glenn Gabito laments the disappearance of fish as he inspects his oil-smeared fishnets in Barangay Tando, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras whose shorelines and waters have been polluted by the Petron oil spill. PDI

Text and photo by Hazel P. Villa
Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2007

NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras – Tama gid ka pigado (Extremely difficult time),” is the oft-repeated phrase of fishermen in the coastal villages of Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras province that was heavily affected by the country’s worst oil spill on Aug. 11, 2006.

Glenn Gabito, 41, a fisherman and father of eight children in Barangay Tando said the last time his fishnet got 600 kilos of fish in a single fishing expedition was Jan. 1 this year. Since then, he couldn’t even get two kilos.

“The fish have not returned. I have been out fishing for three days but I came back with nothing. There’s no income because there’s no fish,” said Gabito in Hiligaynon on Aug. 6.

“Even small fish, none at all,” said Gabito whose house in Tando beach was heavily tarred with bunker fuel oil from Petron-chartered MT Solar I that leaked 1.2 million liters of oil.

Before the oil spill, fishermen could get 20 to 30 kilos of fish a day and, on really good days, about a hundred kilos or more, netting an income of P500 to P1,500, he said.

(Click Where fish.)

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‘A bad dream that won’t go away’

August 10, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, Aug. 10, 2007

GUIMARAS ISLAND — Joel Villagracias still clearly remembers that night.

He and his family were asleep in their nipa hut when they were first roused by the cries of their youngest child who had difficulty breathing.

And then the pungent odor struck them, so strong that they felt dizzy.

Only later they did realize that the shoreline, 60 meters from their doorstep, was already covered with thick black liquid which villagers later called “bangker (bunker).”

“The sea was black and so were the sand and rocks. Our boats were also covered with oil,” Villagracias, 42, said recalling the scene hours after the M/T Solar I sank 13 nautical miles off Guimaras on August 11, 2006, spilling almost 2 million liters of bunker fuel and triggering the country’s worst environmental disaster.

His family along with 200 other residents of Barangay Tando in Nueva Valencia town were forced to leave their homes in September last year after health officials raised fears of serious health risks. Villagracias along with his wife Margie and their six children aged 3 to 18 stayed for nearly two months in tents at an evacuation center at the village proper.

They have long gone back to their house in Sitio Iraya but life has not gone back to normal for them.

“It’s like a bad dream that still doesn’t want to go away,” said Villagracias.

He said he has gone back fishing since December last year, but like thousands of other residents affected by the oil spill he is still reeling from the loss of livelihood and damage to the island’s rich natural resources.

The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies oil spill victims, gave Villagracias P12,000 as compensation for pollution damages. But he said this was hardly enough to pay debts incurred during the months that he was unable to go fishing.

Villagracias said fish catch has not returned to pre-oil spill levels. “I used to get three kilos of shrimp before. Now I get five pieces.”

His wife Margie has started working as a laundrywoman to help him feed their family.

The disaster is also still taking its toll on the island’s once pristine beaches and natural resources with scientists still expecting continued impact on the environment.

Dr. Rex Sadaba, a mangrove expert and head of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) Oil Spill Response Program, said at least 442 mature mangrove trees have died at the 1,143-hectare Taklong Island National Marine Reserve (TINMAR) in Barangay Lapaz in Nueva Valencia.

Another 200 mangrove trees covering 400 square meters in Sitio Lusaran in the same village have also died. Other contaminated trees that have survived are experiencing defoliation (falling off of leaves).

“This is indicative that mangroves are still undergoing stress from the bunker fuel that have coated the trees and blocked their breathing pores,” said Sadaba.

UPV is spearheading the long-term monitoring and research program to determine the impact of the oil contamination on environment, aquaculture, fisheries and social health.

Scientists who attended a conference on the oil spill last year have called for continued monitoring and more extensive research because the effects could take years to manifest and last.

But Sadaba said the bulk of the researches and monitoring has not started because of the delay of the P50-million fund intended for the program.

The delay in the funds has also put on hold rehabilitation projects and alternative livelihood programs.

The Department of Budget and Management has released only around P200 million of the total P863 million fund intended to for the rehabilitation of the affected areas and communities.

Congress last year alloted the fund in the supplemental budget after the President declared a state of national calamity two weeks after the oil spill.

The fund is allocated to the Department of Agriculture (P100 million), DENR (P130 million), Department of Health (P22 million), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P247 million), local government units (P250 million), UPV (P50 million) and other agencies (P64 million).

Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the regional Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, has asked President Macapagal-Arroyo to issue an administrative order to streamline the procedures and requirements for the release of the remaining funds.

With no funds for the government’s rehabilitation projects, the affected residents have to make do with programs initiated by non-government organizations and private groups.

Barangay Tando is a recipient of a livelihood and rehabilitation project of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives which aims to help residents cope with the long term effects of the oil spill. The project involves the donation of four motorized boats, fishnets and other gear for deep-sea fishing to fishermen and the raising of goats.

Petron Corp. had also donated a four-room elementary school building in the village.

Petron Foundation executive director Malou Erlie said they have provided around P20 million worth of livelihood projects and grants to Guimaras. They also plan to put up an Internet system for the province’s 17 public high schools worth P3.6 million.

But while they welcome any assistance for affected residents and communities, environmental and non-government organizations say that Petron and the owners of the sunken tanker should be held accountable for the destroying the livelihood of thousands of residents and damaging the island’s rich marine resources including around 220 km of coastline, 454 hectares of mangroves and 58 ha of seaweed plantations.

Justice also remains elusive for Victor Morados and Art Ian Nabua, crew members of the Solar I who remain missing and are presumed dead.

“Despite the government’s pronouncements of sparing no one in making those responsible for the oil spill accountable, we have not heard anyone being charged, tried and jailed for this man-made disaster,” said Ma. Geobelyn Lopez, coordinator of the Save Our Lives, SOS! Panay and Guimaras, a group composed of non-government organizations, scientists and environmentalists.

“Moving on, recovery and rehabilitation can never be complete without justice,” said Lopez.

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‘PAY ALL OF US!’

August 9, 2007

Oil spill victims ‘used’ and abandoned – priest

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Aug. 9, 1007

GUIMARAS – A parish priest accused the national government of neglecting the victims of last year’s oil spill here, and blamed it for the “low” compensation that the affected residents received.

Father Noe Lozada, parish priest of St. Michael Archangel in Jordan town, also blasted “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

Because of this, Guimarasnons have been unfairly branded as “liars, deceivers and opportunistic,” he lamented.

Lozada said the government has not introduced “lasting solutions.”

“Do not blame the victims of oil spill. Blame the system of governance that we have. Politicians will only visit our place during the election,” said Lozada, who had been in the island for 22 years as a priest.

Last month, the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) rejected almost all the second batch of compensation claimants. Of the 125,614 claimants for this batch, it only considered 134 claims.

“From the beginning, I know these people (from the IOPC) will never compensate (those affected with the) maximum amount. They haggled to the lowest bargain until we just collapse in exasperation,” Lozada stressed.

“Only if the IOPC had been strict during the approval of the first batch of claimants, this will never happen. Why are they being strict now?” Lozada wondered.

A total of 11,227 claims (first batch) have been paid by the IOPC reaching P118,852,193.
According to Guimaras Gov. Felipe Hilan-Nava, the 134 claims are again being screened for final approval by the IOPC.

IOPC made some startling discoveries, among these were the incomplete information on the claim registration or insufficient signatures verifying that the claimants are bona fide fisherfolks; some claimants already received compensation but applied again; others were underaged; and several more were not even coastal residents but inland villagers.

The IOPC tapped fisheries experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and the London Offshore Consultants to help assess the claims of those seeking compensation.

But for Lozada, “it is wrong that only the fisherolks are compensated. Once fishing is affected, all the people of Guimaras are affected. The whole island must be compensated. Everyone of us must be compensated.”

“The government could have helped the people to fight for their right to get maximum benefits and maximum compensation,” said Lozada during a multi-sectoral dialogue on the effects of the oil spill at Shirven’s Hotel in Jordan town on Tuesday.

Lozada said he was saddened by “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

“We were treated by these multinationals to a certain place and slaughtered. They know our leaders will fight against each other and confuse the people,” Lozada said, referring to the filing of the second batch of claimants which was done during the election period.

Gov. Nava confirmed that some unscrupulous politicians used the claims to further their own agenda at the expense of the unsuspecting residents using it as “part of their campaign slogan… they misguided the people into making money the easy way.”

Lozada took to task the government. “The President, the Senate, and the battery of lawyers in Congress should have helped us. (But) there was none … we were just given small things,’ he said.

He said the government only offered pallative solutions to the oil spill catastrophe that displaced thousands of fisherfolks who lost their livelihood.

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Philippines: The Black Stain of Oil

August 5, 2007

By Jason Margolis
Frontline/World, Aug. 2, 2007

The islands impacted by last year’s oil spill in the Philippines are known for their breathtaking beauty: white sand beaches lined with coconut groves; fishermen standing waist deep in clear blue water flinging their nets; children standing on the shores waving to tourists.

I came to this remote area on the island of Guimaras quite by accident. As a reporter with the public radio program The World, one of my beats is to cover alternative energies, such as wind or biomass. Working for a news show that’s international in scope, I’m curious about what solutions countries are adopting as the world starts to move slowly away from fossil fuels. Some work being done in the Philippines had caught my attention. Filipinos, I had learned, aren’t using corn or sugarcane to power their cars; they’re starting to use their local crop, the coconut.

(Read/watch Jason’s report on Frontline.)

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Charges filed vs. Solar 1 owners, says DOJ chief

July 27, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, July 26, 2007

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has denied the statement of the head of a regional inter-agency task force on the Petron oil spill that it failed to file the appropriate charges against those responsible for the country’s worst oil spill.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. lashed at Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, for saying that no one has been charged for the oil spill.

“Mr. Coscolluela is very wrong. He might end up eating his words,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview.

Gonzalez pointed out that criminal charges were filed early this year against owners of the M/T Solar which sank 13.5 miles off Guimaras on August 11, 2006.

The 998-gross-ton tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. (SDMC) was contracted by the giant oil firm Petron to ship fuel to Western Mindanao Power Corp. in Zamboanga del Sur.

The tanker was carrying 13,000 barrels or 2 million liters of bunker fuel in the vessel’s 10 tanks when it sank amid rough seas.

DOJ Undersecretary Fidel Esconde, a member of the DOJ panel that investigated the oil spill, said it filed in March this year charges against SDMC officials for violating the Anti-Dummy Law (Commonwealth Act No. 108 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 715).

Among those charged were before the Manila Regional Trial Court were Japanese nationals Hiroyasu Yamaguchi, Mototsugu Yamaguchi, Tomoki Tsubomoto and Hiromi Irishika, and Filipinos Clemente Cancio, Roberto Mena, Gregorio Flores and Angelita Buenaventura.

The respondents were charged after an investigation of the five-member DOJ panel found the Japanese officials to be illegally occupying key positions in the corporation. The Japanese incorporators also largely controlled the company and were intervening in its management, operation, administration and control, according the results of the DOJ investigation.

Esconde said Guimaras officials had also filed criminal charges against Petron and SDMC officials for violating environmental laws.

But he pointed out that the charges and the subsequent appeal of the petitioners were dismissed by the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office.

Guimaras provincial prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin had dismissed the complaint against Petron and SDMC officials for violating Republic Act No. 9275 (Clean Water Act of 2004), RA 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) and RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) for lack of evidence.

Calmorin had said in his resolution that the sinking of the tanker and the oil spill were unintentional acts.

“We are waiting for the petitioners to appeal the resolution of the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office before we can act on it,” said Esconde in a telephone interview.

Coscolluela said he was unaware that charges have been filed against anyone in relation to the oil spill because the DOJ failed to report it in meetings of the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

“If a case has indeed been filed, then we are happy to hear that,” Coscolluela said in a telephone interview.

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Fisherfolk want IOPC to apologize for saying spill victims faked claims

July 26, 2007

By Jonathan Mayuga
Correspondent
BusinessMirror, July 26, 2007

THE militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Tuesday criticized the International Oil Pollution Council (IOPC) for rejecting outright the second batch of damage claims in connection with the Guimaras oil spill.

The group also demanded that IOPC issue a public apology for implicating the claimants in an alleged “money-making scheme” in applying for claims in the oil spill.

“They want a walk-in-the park escape. This is foul, a blatant attempt to score a wholesale injustice to the victims of the Guimaras oil spill tragedy,” Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.

Hicap was reacting to reports the IOPC has identified less than 200 of the over 100,000 claims included in the second batch of claims for further review and validation, as revealed by Rafael Coscolluela, Malacañang designated presidential assistant for Western Visayas.

The IOPC has paid out a P177-million settlement to the first batch of claims made by over 22,000 people whose livelihood was affected after M/T Solar 1 sank off the waters of Guimaras on August 2006, spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.

Coscolluela learned from IOPC claims manager Patrick Joseph that the international compensation board rejected 99,800 claimants because they failed to meet the criteria for filing claims. He said the IOPC believed most of the claims were politically accommodated by local government units.

The IOPC said the claims were filed before the elections. Since many people heard that the first batch of claimants received claims of up to P30,000, the group said somebody might have advised other people to file their claims before the international pollution body.

Many applicants failed to comply with the documentary requirements, it said, adding that most claimants in the second batch were not listed as residents, were not registered voters and were not listed as members of any fishermen’s organizations, or were underage.

“This is preposterous. The set of criteria is short of saying that the IOPC will no longer entertain claimants,” Hicap said.

Pamalakaya urged the IOPC to apologize to the Filipino people for maligning them.

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W. Visayas leader takes swipe at DOJ

July 24, 2007

THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina
Philippine Star, July 24, 2007

(Excerpt)

NEGRENSE officials expressed hopes that the torrid issue on the speakership of the House of Representatives could end before yesterday’s State of the National Address by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

One of those who optimistically predicted that the issue could be settled before the President addresses the joint session of 14th Congress yesterday was Rep. Monico Puentevella (Bacolod City).

Of course, that had never happened before – the postponement of the SONA. Very unlikely that could occur. But the determined effort by the forces behind Rep. Pablo Garcia (Cebu) to demand for a secret balloting was the one that led to the impasse Saturday.

Still, it is our hope that the leaders of the lower chamber could settle their dispute over the speakership and come up with a compromise before the actual delivery of the SONA.

But Western Visayas was jarred when Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela took to task the Department of Justice for doing nothing or simply sitting down on the Guimaras Oil Spill, the country’s worst environmental disaster.

Although that was played up by the Panay News, a daily that has consistently been opposed to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, the article was detailed in recounting what Coscolluela stated during the launching of the Department of Tourism ecological tourism initiative.

Coscolluela reported revealed that last month, during the meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, he had raised his concern. That the Senate and the Special Board of Marine Inquiry investigation reports had been forwarded to the DOJ. The department, however, apparently sat on it.

At the time, before the NDCC meet, Coscolluela said the DOJ representative was not aware of the status of the case.

“Maybe, Coscolluela pointed out, the DOJ is still gathering more evidences prior to the filing of charges. What charges to file, and against whom to file.”

Whatever the merit of the public complaint by Coscolluela, the DOJ secretary cannot just shrug it off.

We hope acting DOJ chief Raul Gonzalez can clarify the seeming wishy-shy attitude of the DOJ over the Guimaras oil spill.

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Barrel-bottom survival rates

June 7, 2007

By Juan Mercado

High-profile disasters, like the Solar I tanker oil spill that blackened Guimaras’ coastline, shoved lowly mangroves into the headlines. But the more lethal threat to this threatened resource rarely makes prime-time news because it is silent: the barrel-bottom survival rates of replanted trees.

In Magallanes, Agusan del Norte, 53.8 hectares were replanted at a cost of P2.28 million. But trees survived in only one hectare, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec) scientists report. Floods swept the rest away.

Isn’t this stumbling backward into the future?

“Hundreds of millions of dollars [went] to rehabilitate thousands of hectares over the last two decades,” Seafdec’s Jurgenne Primavera and J.M.A. Esteban told a De La Salle University conference. “[But] long-term survival rates of mangroves — the main and only meaningful index of success — hover at 10 percent to 20 percent.”

(For the rest of the story, click Asian Journal, June 5, 2007.)

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IOPC exec bewails political meddling in oil spill claims

April 26, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today
April 26, 2007

AFTER being ravaged by millions of liters of bunker fuel spilled on their shores, residents of Guimaras Island are now caught in the bitter wrangling of politicians over the payment of pollution compensation claims.

The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund has lamented how the claims for compensation for damages incurred from the Petron oil spill has been derailed by politics.

“…It is sad that the incident is being used by politicians this way. It is very sad that other people are exploiting the victims in various ways,” said IOPC deputy director and technical adviser Joe Nichols.

The IOPC is a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies losses resulting from oil spills.

While he did not point out who was responsible, Nichols pointed to the deluge of “spurious” claimants that have swamped the IOPC.

“Unfortunately, this whole incident got wrapped in the political situation and the Fund is being used as a political football match, which is very sad,” said Nichols in an interview.

The IOPC has received 102,600 claim forms for the second batch of claimants from Guimaras.

Nichols said they were shocked by the number of additional claimants, which added with the first batch of claimants, accounted to 80 percent of the island’s total population of 154,000. “It is simply impossible for that number of people to be directly affected by pollution.”

Nichols said they believe they have compensated almost all of those affected by the oil spill in the fisheries sector.

“We think that only few (remain to be paid)… maybe tens rather than hundreds and certainly not thousands,” he said.

Nichols said they do not want to be involved in the political squabble in Guimaras.

“We will not be drawn into it. The Fund is not a political organization. We are not interested in politics,” said Nichols.

Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava (Kampi) who is in third and last term is running against re-electionist Rep. Edgar Espinosa (Lakas CMD).

Both officials have blamed each other for the deluge of claimants.

Nava claimed it was Espinosa’s camp that spread the “misinformation” that anyone could file a claim resulting to the deluge of claimants.

“They have not gone through the established process that’s why there’s chaos,” said Nava.

He said the claims that were processed by Espinosa’s camp included the congressman’s driver, secretary and relatives.

When reached for comment, Espinosa did not deny that his relatives and employees were among the claimants.

“I did not know that they filed the claims. I have instructed them to withdraw it,” Espinosa said in a telephone interview.

Espinosa in turn accused Nava of including employees at the provincial capitol and those belonging to the governor’s political camp among the claimants.

Espinosa’s consultant Gerry Yucon cited the case of Vice Mayor Johhny Gajo of San Lorenzo town who was among the claimants.

But Nava said Gajo is a legitimate claimant because the vice mayor is a fishing boat owner.

Nava said they could not do anything with the number of claimants because it has already been submitted to the IOPC. “It’s up to them to verify it.”

Nichols said that before the payments were made, they had agreed that the claim forms will be processed and verified in four stages and will be signed by the barangay captain, local fisheries and agriculture officer, municipal mayor and the governor.

But he said they subsequently discovered that Espinosa was also adding his signature to the claim forms.

“The Fund is not in a position to turn away anybody’s claim. We had an original agreement that most of the claims will be verified by Governor Nava but we couldn’t stop anybody else from joining in the verification process,” said Nichols.

He said that while the IOPC normally would assess and verify the claims individually, they agreed to adopt the set-up with the help of the local government units because of the need to compensate the victims quickly.

“We knew that there were some risks that some people would be compensated (even if) they shouldn’t be compensated. We considered it an acceptable risk in the interest that people would get paid quickly,” said Nichols.

He said it would take years to verify the 102,600 claims. “But I believe most of them will be rejected because they are not admissible.”

He said the second batch of claim forms were incomplete, lacking information or were submitted by minors. The IOPC has a policy of not compensating minors because they were advised that it is illegal for minors to be involved in fishing.

“It is very, very sad that to some extent it is being abused in this way. I do not know who’s responsible for encouraging people this way to (file) claims,” said Nichols.

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Short films on Guimaras oil spill at UP Diliman

April 18, 2007

THE former UP Film Center (now UP Film Institute) mounts its own celebration for environmental awareness with a distinct program of films for the last two weekends of April. The main highlight will feature a marathon of screenings for Guimaras – Short Films from the Oil Spill on April 20 and April 21 at 7 p.m.

Featured are the works by independent filmmakers all tackling the effects of the oil spill on the environment and the lives of the people on Guimaras island.

Among the directors behind the acclaimed shorts are Drei Boquiren, Jeck Cogama, Khavn de la Cruz, Wilfred Allen Galila, Rox Lee, Raya Martin, Oscar Nava, Seymour Barros Sanchez, Ann Angala-Shy, Victor Louie Villanueva, JP Carpio, Emman de la Cruz, Kidlat de Guia, Milo Alto Paz, Kidlat Tahimik and Paolo Villaluna.

The much awaited UP Film Institute showcase of Guimaras – Short Films from the Oil Spill will be preceded on April 20 by I Dreamed of Africa from director Hugh Hudson of Chariots of Fire fame and on April 21 by the legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. (The News Today, April 18, 2007)

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Wrong charges cleared Petron of the wrong

April 2, 2007

IN MY PACK By Ruth G. Mercado
The Freeman 04/02/2007

IN the Philippines, it does not need a lawyer to uphold the law. In fact, it does not need the law to indict wrong doers. Just last week, officials of Petron Corporation and operators of MV Solar I Sunshine Maritime Corporation were cleared of criminal charges after owning responsibility for the worst oil spill in the country’s maritime history.

The Guimaras Provincial Prosecutor’s Office dismissed criminal complaints against Petron and Sunshine Maritime for “lack of probable cause” in violating the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Ecological Waste Management Act. What prosecutor would indict an oil company or tanker for violating air, water and ecological regulations when the pollution committed was at sea, affecting marine life and involved a ship. No where does it come near air, water or ecology issues. One does not find probable cause in a man accused of murder when he actually committed arson. One does not accuse a man of rape, when actually he embezzled money.

Prosecutors only did what they had to do – dismiss the complaint because charges filed against Petron and Sunshine Maritime were wrong.

While there is dearth of laws regulating the operation of oil tankers or the prosecution of oil spill villains, government is not thoroughly inutile about prosecuting oil polluters if it has the will, resolve, hammer and teeth to do so. How is it that Petron and Sunshine Maritime were not charged for violating the fisheries law on pollution? Or why had they not been charged with Presidential Decree 600 the primary law penalizing oil pollution or the improper handling of hazardous cargoes. If the government was hell bent about prosecuting oil spillers and true killers of marine life, it should have filed complaints with existing laws parallel to the crime.

Bent about going to hell, government detoured from the road of the straight and the narrow and filed token charges if only to appease Guimaras residents. Seeing themselves in an uncompromising and awkward situation where they took responsibility of the oil spill but spared of liability, Petron dangled carrot and candy with rehabilitation initiatives in building schools and other palliative projects.

This slimy issue isn’t about to slip. What this dismissal brought to surface from out of oily issues is murky political engineering among government, maritime authorities and oil spill villains. What are being dismissed from view are allegations of oil pilferage which seems to have submerged with the tanker.

Oil spill and pollution in ocean waters were probably in existence since ships started running in this country. Each day, each minute, each second, channels and seas all over the archipelago are tainted, polluted as ships throw garbage, throw human wastes and throw excess oil at sea. Each moment, ships and tankers rendezvous at mid-sea to transfer or pilfer fuel. One only has to look at the shorelines of the Mactan Channel to see the oily residue and ugly garbage on the beachfront. One only has to wonder why ships ply certain routes without departure clearances.

The 2006 Guimaras oil spill got the spotlight because of the colossal manner by which two million liters of bunker fuel sank on clear weather. While Petron and Sunshine Maritime may have been dismissed, the ticking bomb underneath the sea can’t. Minimal oil has been retrieved from siphon operations. That means much of the two million liters of bunker oil have spread deep, wide and far underneath the ocean killing marine life with each tick of a second.

When that ticking time bomb of environment disaster does explode, humanity will be dismissed too.

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Local execs to appeal dismissal of Guimaras suit vs Petron

March 27, 2007

Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
March 25, 2007

ILOILO CITY – Two environmental groups strongly criticized the decision of the Guimaras Prosecutors’ Office to junk a complaint against officials of Petron Corp. and the owner of the sunken tanker Solar 1 for the August 2006 Visayas oil spill.

Greenpeace and Save Our Lives, SOS! maintained Petron should be made to answer for the oil spill that had destroyed the livelihood of thousands of Guimaras residents and devastated the island’s rich marine resources.

Greenpeace said the junking of the criminal complainant against Petron was “most unfortunate.”

“The ruling glosses over the company’s responsibilities for what stands as one the worst environmental disasters in Philippine history,” said Von Hernandez, campaign director of Greenpeace in Southeast Asia.

Hernandez said that while the oil firm had no intention of causing the oil spill, “Petron’s negligence in exercising duty of care over the cargo it intended to profit from is criminal. The company has to be made liable for this criminal negligence.”

Save Our Lives, SOS!, composed of non-government organizations, scientists and environmentalists, said the cleanup and rehabilitation of the affected areas and residents were only parts of addressing the oil spill.

“We must make sure that justice will be given to all the victims by punishing those responsible for this manmade catastrophe,” Save our Lives, SOS! coordinator Ma. Geobelyn Lopez said.

Meanwhile, Guimaras provincial legal officer Plaridel Nava II said they would file a motion for reconsideration on Monday.

While they agree that the sinking of the tanker and the oil were unintentional, Nava said they would point out that Petron and the owner of the tanker were criminally liable for reckless imprudence.

He pointed out that the Solar I was not seaworthy when it sailed on August 11, 2006 and eventually sank 13.3 miles southwest of Guimaras Island.

Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga, in a telephone interview, said they would pursue the complaint because of the damage caused by the oil spill. Nueva Valencia was the hardest hit of Guimaras’ towns by the spill.

Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava said they were saddened with the dismissal of the complaint.

“We will exhaust whatever legal measures that are available to us,” the governor said, in a telephone interview.

The governor also denied the complaint that they filed was inherently weak.

Guimaras provincial prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin issued a 17-page resolution on March 2 dismissing the criminal complaint filed against Petron officials and the owner of the sunken tanker for lack of probable cause.

Gonzaga had accused Petron officials and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. of violating Republic Act 9275 (Clean Water Act of 2004), Republic Act 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) and Republic Act 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000).

Calmorin said in his resolution that the respondents could not be held criminally liable because the sinking of the tanker and the oil spill were unintentional.

He also dismissed the complainant’s allegation that the personnel hired by the oil firm dumped contaminated debris in a village in Nueva Valencia and sprayed chemicals in the shoreline without authorization.

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Why the hush over barge Ras?

March 18, 2007

IN MY PACK
By Ruth G. Mercado
The Freeman 03/17/2007

BECAUSE of the hostile and transparent manner the Special Board of Marine Inquiry handled the barge Ras sinking off the coasts of Misamis, its findings were hushed purportedly pending review with the Coast Guard’s board of marine inquiry in Manila. Commodore Benjamin Mata, chairman of the Coast Guard’s Board of Marine Inquiry said the findings were not to be released prematurely – especially when findings are too revealing to be true.

Congratulations go to Coast Guard’s Northern Mindanao district commander Commodore Cecil Chen who is chairman of the special marine inquiry board and his team. Since the Solar I oil spill in August, never before has there been a hostile approach at maritime disasters in the country. The board arrived at three revealing conclusions: that there may be links among Petron, owners of MT Solar I or MT Vega from which it can be established that the August Solar I and November Barge Ras are continuing events. Second, negligence and safety breaches, not fortuity, caused the sinking. Three, vessels were not seaworthy at the time of the accident.

Collaborating with a Cagayan-based journalist, The Freeman launched an investigative report to establish links in the continuing events of the Guimaras oil spill and the Misamis barge sinking. The findings turned out more murky and slimy than the “worst maritime oil spill” in the country’s history.

On Nov. 20, barge Ras that was towed by Motor Tanker Vega, sank two miles off Polo Point, Plaridel, Misamis Occidental on clear weather. Carrying 59,649 sacks of oil contaminated debris from Cabalagnan, Guimaras, the barge was on its way to Lugait, Misamis Oriental where the debris was to be delivered to Holcim, Philippines for treatment and disposal. Holcim is a cement factory based in Misamis.

The barge of hazardous cargo had been part of clean up operations after 998-ton MT Solar I carrying some two million liters of bunker fuel sank off the coasts of Guimaras on a clear day in August last year. The Manila-registered tanker Solar I left the Port of Bataan on Aug. 10 and was on its way to deliver its cargo of bunker fuel to Zamboanga when the tanker sunk off Guimaras, Iloilo apparently buffeted with strong waves.

Petron Corporation claimed responsibility for the spill and that it had engaged Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation, operators of Solar I, to deliver the cargo to Zamboanga. But in the aftermath of two separate probes done by the justice department and the Coast Guard on the Solar I sinking, both agencies pinned the blame solely on Solar I Captain Norberto Aguro for having sailed in rough weather carrying an expired chemical tanker license. Issues on fortuity were discreetly evaded.

Though both incidents happened four months apart, the Solar I and barge Ras accidents are continuing offenses because these involve the same hazardous cargo that spills over complex issues of improper cargo handling and maritime pollution. Yet as the Coast Guard’s Manila inquiry board and justice department gave the Solar I sinking perfunctory treatment, Northern Mindanao’s special inquiry board was hawkish.

Rejecting fortuity, the special inquiry board categorically said it was negligence and that the ship was not seaworthy to be direct causes of the sinking. The board said the crew did not exercise due diligence when they failed to secure barge hatches properly causing seawater to flood cargo holds as the vessel was underway. The board also found documentary irregularities in barge and tugboat licenses, ownership and compliance of the required number of ship crew.

The boat and barge were found to have sailed without communication equipment that neither vessel could send alerts to each other and to authorities. As the barge started sinking and dragged the tugboat down, the 160-meter towline snapped. MT Vega’s crew had to cut off the snapped towline as the barge disappeared underneath the sea. The barge’s eight-man escaped aboard a life raft.

From testimonies and documentary evidence, Chen’s team established the pattern of ownership. Barge Ras is a Filipino registered vessel owned and operated by Key Logistics, Incorporated based in Manila. Harbor Star Shipping, specializing among others services in oil abatement and recovery, owns MT Vega. A scrutiny on Harbor Star’s website shows that Barge Ras is in its fleet list.

The inquiry board found out that while earlier proceedings show Sunshine Maritime owns and operates Solar I, testimonies suggest Harbor Star may also be involved in its ownership.

There are likewise insinuations that owners of Harbor Star have connections with owners of Holcim Cement and that someone in Harbor Star or Holcim is allegedly involved or works with Petron.

The special board of inquiry in Northern Mindanao recommended the “filing of appropriate charges by government agencies against Harbor Star Shipping Services of MT Vega shipmaster Jeremie Caterio and his chief engineer.

The board was silent on the filing of charges against owners barge Ras. Efforts were made to call Commodore Chen but he deliberately would not answer his cellphone from all three numbers he himself provided The Freeman.

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No oil spill compensation for under-aged victims

January 27, 2007

By Florence F. Hibionada
The News Today, Jan. 26, 2007

AFTER hundreds of thousands in checks released to oil spill victims in the province of Guimaras, a new complaint has been raised following reports that under-aged claimants have been barred from any compensation.

Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga disclosed that said applications of a number of claimants, mostly minors, were refused by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.

As such, Mayor Gonzaga wrote to Nueva Valencia barangay captains to keep watch of the ongoing check distribution in an effort to resolve and avert similar problems.

Reached by Bombo Radyo Iloilo, Gonzaga decried the alleged denial of claims to Guimaras locals below 18 years old though it was not clear how many of such claims were disallowed in the compensation process.

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Petron wants more time to comply with biofuels law

January 22, 2007

PETRON Corp., a major oil refiner, will seek from the government a reasonable transition period for the implementation of the Biofuels Act of 2006, its top official said Friday night.

petron-saudi-guy.jpg
Petron President and Chief Executive Officer Khalid D. Al-Faddagh said the oil firm, which is partly owned by the government-run Philippine National Oil Co., will work with government in formulating the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the recently approved law, which mandates the blending of biodiesel and bioethanol into diesel and gasoline, respectively.

He assured that the oil firm will comply with the law but wants to be given enough time to meet all the requirements. He said Petron may ask for a one-year transition period.

On the use ethanol, for instance, Mr. Al-Faddagh said there are technical issues with respect to the blending and the percentage.

“I think that time is needed for getting the system ready. It’s just the logistical side of it, which we’re working on. There are still uncertainties that have to be addressed such as if there is enough supply for the whole Philippines,” he told reporters.

He also said that the oil firm needs time to ensure that the blending of coco-methyl ester (CME) or biodiesel into diesel would have no effects on vehicle engines.

“Liabilities on damages that will come out from using CME have been one of the points we have initially raised. We want the rules of engagement to be clear. This is a law and we will comply with it but it has to make clear issues on liabilities,” he said.

Mr. Al-Faddagh said Petron is doing a lot of research and testing to ensure that the use of CME would not be harmful to motorists.

“So we’re working on it. And all we’ve been asking from the beginning is a transition period, and maybe the IRR can clarify this,” he said.

Aside from the technical and safety issues, Mr. Al-Faddagh said Petron is also looking into whether there is enough supply of CME as this would affect costs.

“We have a bigger issue on the steady supply of CME [including] the price of it and how it will be priced. I’m talking about the whole Philippines. We also have to look into the logistic system that has to take care of this blend, so we still have to figure it out,” he said.

Petron is allotting P269 million this year for its ethanol program which will be used to construct new pipes and holding tanks to store the alternative fuel. It has yet to finalize the budget for the use of CME or biodiesel.

Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla, for his part, assured that the National Biofuels Board would consult all stake-holders in formulating the law’s implementing rules.

The Biofuels Act initially mandates a minimum of 1% biodiesel blend within three months after the law takes effect and at least 5% bioethanol blend within two years.

The law also mandates implementation of at least 2% biodiesel blend within two years upon effectivity and 10% bioethanol fuel within four years.

Estimates from the energy department show that the use of 1% biodiesel and 5% bioethanol this year will result to foreign exchange savings for the country of about $167 million annually.

In 2010, the use of 10% bioethanol and 2% biodiesel will result in annual foreign exchange savings of about $389 million. — Iris Cecilia C. Gonzales, BusinessWorld, Jan. 22, 2007

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Is anyone surprised?

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CBCP backs boycott call against oil firm

January 10, 2007

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Jan. 10, 2006

ILOILO City – The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) supports the call of the residents in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras to boycott the products of Petron Corp. whose chartered oil tanker sank in August last year, causing an oil spill.

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Archbishop Lagdameo (Photo from
Dyaryo Pilipino.)

In an endorsement letter dated January 2*, CBCP President and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo sympathized with the residents who are demanding for a just restitution from Petron.

The Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center (JASAC) wants to make the boycott call a nationwide campaign.

JASAC Director Monsignor Meliton Oso said the boycott manifesto had been faxed to all the dioceses in Western Visayas and to the national office of the social action center to be circulated in other dioceses and 97 prelatures in the country.

In the manifesto, the residents said the oil spill “tragically damaged” barangays and their livelihood.

The Parish Pastoral Council of Nueva Valencia, led by parish priest Antonio Chan initiated the manifesto calling to boycott Petron products on December 28, 2006.

During the manifesto’s launching, residents of San Lorenzo and Sibunag towns also came to Nueva Valencia to show their solidarity.

The municipality of Nueva Valencia was worst hit by the oil spill but the coastal barangays of San Lorenzo and Sibunag towns were also tarnished by the bunker fuel oil that leaked from the sunken M/T Solar 1.

Petron chartered the tanker to transport its 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel oil to Zamboanga. Unfortunately on August 11, 2006 it sank off the rough seas of the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait.

Chan said their boycott call “will be an ongoing campaign.”

JASAC’s Oso said “all priests were furnished a copy of the manifesto. We hope for the community to support this.”

“We encourage (parishioners) to stop patronizing (Petron products), encourage friends to support (the initiative) and to post streamers rejecting Petron products,” Oso said further.

DEMAND

Nueva Valencia residents want the government to execute punitive actions and enforce regulations and policies against those responsible for the tragedy; that Petron be held fully accountable and must make a thorough cleanup of the oil sludge in a manner acceptable not only to the “world of science” but most importantly to the affected people of Guimaras and nearby provinces; that the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund must provide just compensation to the victims and immediately release the funds in the province of Guimaras; and that the remaining bunker fuel in the M/T Solar 1 must be retrieved immediately.

“(The) bunker oil still pollutes our shores and mangrove areas, devastates our sources of livelihood, and exposes us to long-term effects of carcinogenic and other highly toxic compounds,” the manifesto read.

The residents also belied the claims of the country’s largest oil refiner that the oil-smeared shores of Guimaras are “now 100-percent clean.”

“We cannot tolerate the lies of Petron… that they are not accountable for their own negligence in ensuring seaworthy contracted carriers, that the bunker fuel is not volatile and toxic; that the spraying of dispersants is not harmful; and that there is no danger of implosion of the sunken oil tanker,” the manifesto further read.

PETRON’S SIDE

“We have spearheaded the cleanup in cooperation with concerned agencies and organizations,” countered Rafael Ledesma, Petron Public Affairs Officer.

But he admitted that “we have not included mangroves and rocky shores. (The cleanup) involves only the shores. Experts told us not to touch the mangroves as doing so may cause more damage to the environment.”

Ledesma said they will continue to monitor the area despite having finished cleanup already.

Petron has now shifted its focus on the rehabilitation and the setting up of alternative livelihood for the residents, he revealed.

“We committed to establish mangrove nurseries and marine aquaculture for the residents,” Ledesma added.

Ledesma said they are “not bothered” by the threat to boycott their products.

“In spite of the campaign, we will doing everything to restore Guimaras (to its original state),” he said.

WHERE’S THE REHAB PLAN?

The residents said the scientific conference “funded” by Petron in November last year was supposed to draw long-term rehabilitation and recovery plans “but fell short in addressing the prime concerns of the people: resources for alternative livelihood, means of monitoring and supporting persons heavily exposed to toxic fumes, methods and approaches for thorough and total cleanup, and immediate retrieval of the remaining bunker oil in the M/T Solar 1.”

They added, “deterrent measures and punitive actions against the culprits were not discussed in the conference and worse, the residents of the affected municipalities, with Nueva Valencia as the hardest hit, were not given a chance to participate.”

Ledesma, however, clarified that local government units had their representatives during the scientific conference.

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We will post the CBCP endorsement letter as soon as it has been made available to us.

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Mirant’s P5-M mangrove nursery in Guimaras

January 9, 2007

By Bassinette Noderama
The Guardian Iloilo
2007-01-09

TO help in the rehabilitation and restoration program of mangroves affected by the oil spill in Guimaras, Mirant Philippines Foundation Inc. (MPFI) donated P5 million for a 5,000-square meter nursery (with 200,000 seedlings) at Brgy. Tando, Nueva Valencia.

The launching ceremony was led by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Angelo Reyes and MPFI executive director Robert Calingo. Before the ceremony, there was a comprehensive mangrove rehabilitation planning workshop at the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center.

The workshop tackled the extent of damage. It was said that 438 out of 957.5 hectares of mangroves in Guimaras were affected by the oil spill. In the neighboring province of Iloilo, 7.3 hectares were affected in the town of Concepcion and 18.6 hectares in Ajuy.

“Mangroves are vital to the food chain of marine environment because plankton, sea grass, and shellfish are dependent on it. The oil spill also saw the importance of mangroves. You know what, it is a good protection from oil spill,” DENR Regional Director Julian Amador said.

The nursery in Tando is the first of three central nurseries to be set up. The other central nurseries will be in the town of Sibunag and in the island of Panobolon. Seven subsidiary nurseries will also be put up.

It may be recalled that last year, a 26-hectare mangrove plantation was launched in Panobolon, an island barangay in Nueva Valencia. The memorandum of agreement (MOA) to implement the project was signed by Guimaras Governor Rahman Nava and Timoteo Olarte, head of the DBP Area Management Office in the Visayas.

That plantation was destroyed by the August 11 oil spill that is considered as the worst environmental disaster to hit the country.

My late mother’s relatives have fishponds in Nueva Valencia. Her ancestors who originally had fishponds in Dumangas passed on their interests to descendants. Fishponds and mangrove forests are parts of my life.

Mangrove forests shelter fish and other aquatic organisms like shells and crustaceans. They are good spawning grounds. Thickets of the aquatic trees provide protection from strong winds and wave action.

As a child, whenever I would tag along to the fishponds, I would always play among the aerial roots of mangrove trees. They are good picnic grounds if one knows how to deal with them.

Mangroves produce numerous aerial stilts or prop roots. The roots extend out from the main trunk into the water, forming dense thickets. These aquatic trees have tough, leathery leaves. There are large flowers. As the fruit ripens, a sharp root grows from it. When the fruit falls, the root is pushed into the mud. It becomes a new plant.

Aside from sheltering fish and other aquatic organisms, mangroves are also good sources of firewood and charcoal. However, cutting was restricted to branches only. The main trunk was never touched. We were careful in conserving the very useful trees.

Seeing the devastation in what had been developed and taken cared of by our ancestors was unimaginable. What used to be paradise was turned into purgatory. Scientists said that the full effect of the oil spill will be known after several years.

We’re very thankful to the people who help us start again. The mangrove nursery is a good start. It is said that a hectare of the aquatic trees can increase fish production by at least one ton.

Fisherfolk have returned to their craft. The sight of growing mangrove trees is an inspiration that life goes on no matter what happens.

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Petron tries to have PR expenses reimbursed

January 4, 2007

By Maricar M. Calubiran
The News Today, Jan. 3, 2007

NOT only are the residents affected by the oil spill file compensation claims with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), even Petron Corp. owner of the 2 million liters of bunker oil which spilled off the waters of Guimaras is filing reimbursements with the IOPCF.

An official of the IOPCF disclosed that Petron initially asked to be refunded P180 million but the Fund only released P60 million as the other expenses were not related to cleaning and disposal of oily debris in the areas affected by the oil spill.

IOPCF Deputy Director and Technical Advisor Joe Nichols said bulk of the reimbursements asked by the oil firm were “public relations expenses.”

Nichols said as a rule, IOPCF will only reimburse Petron in all its cleaning and disposal expenses.

He said the Fund could not refund expenses such as “bribes” to public officials, public relations, aid packages and food to the oil spill victims.

Nichols said Petron was so helpful with the Fund in organizing claims workshops but some of their claims were not pollution-related items.

The issue on alleged bribes involving four provincial board members of Guimaras cropped up two weeks ago.

Petron reportedly offered bribe money to Board members Allan Chavez, Rolando Gadnanan, Vicente de Asis and David Gano.

Of the four board members, only Gano immediately confirmed they were treated with lunch and were offered money when they went to Bulacan for a conference. Gano said he returned the money to Petron’s driver.

Meanwhile, it took weeks for Gadnanan, De Asis and Chavez to comment on the alleged bribe money. The three claimed they also returned the money.

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NOW that really is cheap! Petron wants to have its PR expenses reimbursed? I would think that even if the IOPCF allowed such items to be claimed, it still wouldn’t give the money to Petron because of its half-assed PR/media relations stunts!

If you recall, not only was Petron trying to bribe government officials aside from those already mentioned here, it was also trying to bribe local media in exchange for “happy news.” For awhile, its hired PR consultant was successful (despite the awfully low fees for the local media which I’ve been told started at P500…duh!). But after being scored for the dastardly deed, the company pulled the plug on the practice. Or so we thought. Apparently it’s now been targetting public officials.

Corporate social responsibility…indeed.

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ABS-CBN News’ 2006 Year in Review

December 30, 2006

Oil spill in Guimaras

WEARING rubber gloves and using dishwashing liquid and a scouring pad, Remmy Cayanan was busy scrubbing rocks on the beach of Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras. With a bitter smile, she laments the loss of their clean sea “Eto wala na ang malinis na dagat namin (Our unpolluted waters are gone).”

For P500 a day, Remmy was among those hired by Petron Corporation to help in cleaning up the black greasy mess on the coastline of the town for two weeks.

On August 11, the M/T Solar 1 owned by Sunshine Maritime Corporation and carrying some 200,000 liters of bunker fuel oil of Petron, sank off the coast of Guimaras. Thousands of liters of bunker fuel oil found its way on the pristine beaches of the island province, also famous for its sweet and succulent golden yellow mangoes.

In a letter to Petron president Khalid Al-Faddagh, the provincial government of Guimaras declared these statistics: 239 kilometers of coastlines affected; 58 hectares of seaweed plantations damaged; 105 hectares of mangrove areas hit; 1,180 fisherfolks who temporarily lost their jobs; and numerous cases of respiratory illnesses and stomach and skin disorders reported. Accordingly, this is the worst oil spill in the country.

Days after local and international uproar, Petron and Sunshine Maritime have owned up to the responsibility for the oil spill. But the bulk of the task of rehabilitating Guimaras now lies on the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, an international body whose mission is partly to provide financial assistance to residents affected by massive oil spills.

Despite claims made by Petron that the physical cleanup of the affected coastlines is 100-percent complete, traces of oil can still be found on the beaches of Guimaras. Complete rehabilitation is another thing and it may take several years.

It is thus painfully difficult for Remmy to erase from her memories the black smudge on the white-sand beaches of her province, especially after toiling under the hot sun just to clean up the mess left by the sunken ship. But she is fervently hoping that in due time, fish will thrive once more in their waters, vulnerable mangroves will soon recover and their simple and quiet lives in Guimaras will be back.

(For the rest of the yearender, click ABS-CBN News, Dec. 30, 2006.)

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2006: Maritime’s most disastrous year

December 30, 2006

IN MY PACK By Ruth G. Mercado
The Freeman 12/30/2006

2006 may well be remembered in the maritime industry as the and most catastrophic year since the 1987 sinking of the Doña Paz. With most accidents happening in Cebu and Eastern Visayas, the ghastly spate of tragedies ought to shed a straightforward assessment as to whether the outsourcing arrangement between Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority was effective or if there was faithful enforcement of maritime safety. It would also have laid bare impediments why regulations on wooden-hulled ships are taking so long to finalize and implement.

Sadly and surprisingly, maritime and Coast Guard, who are supposed to be in the business of tracking disasters, seem remotely aware of the horrific phenomenon. In a striking demeanor of nonchalance, there seems little care by authorities in taking a hard, serious look about why disasters are happening and happening successively.

Nevertheless, in the absence of an official list from Coast Guard and Marina, The Freeman has made its own tally based on investigative coverage. Nationwide, there were at least 15 maritime disasters and mishaps in 2006 including such high profile cases as fire onboard MV Asia Philippines, Superferry 12 and Heaven Star and the murder of a former Biliran governor onboard MV Cagayan Princess. Well-etched in maritime history are the oil spills in Guimaras and Misamis, the disappearance of MV Zarraga, cargo ship collision, and several incidents involving wooden ships in the sinking of motorized bancas in Cebu, Surigao and Pangasinan. At least 50 people have perished in all these accidents and while there are no confirmed figures, there is no quantifiable proof on the millions of pesos worth of property and marine life lost in the Guimaras and Misamis oil spills.

Marina administrator Vicente Suazo has since belittled the peculiar coincidence of accidents and dismissed speculations that a curse may haunt the maritime industry. In Cebu for instance, two ships caught fire at mid-sea exactly a month apart in almost the same circumstances. The MV Superferry 12 caught fire at its top decks in the morning of March 9 and exactly a month later on April 9, an early morning fire erupted on the top decks of MV Heaven Star. Initial inspection point to lighted cigarette as probable cause of both fires. While the Superferry 12 fire damaged all suites at the top deck, the Heaven Star fire burned eight life rafts and decommissioned 42 bunks.

Then while 19 were believed to have perished when motor banca SunJay sank off the coasts of Southern Leyte in January, some 19 were also presumed dead when motor banca Leonida II sank at Bilisan Island, Surigao in November.

Anti-oil pollution laws, which remain non-existent in this country, plague Guimaras and Misamis oil spills as the vessels carrying the bunker oil and oil debris are reportedly spoofed with spurious documents either of the vessel or its crew.

What may be a redeeming factor for the Coast Guard is their quick response in search, rescue and retrieval missions. But even then, finger pointing and blame passing between Marina and Coast Guard are quicker than emergency response. Marine inquiry proceedings are of little help. Proceedings drag on aimlessly as hearings are often postponed purportedly because lawyers have conflicting diary schedules.

Equally frustrating is how authorities circumvent their own laws. While laws specifically provide that accidents be heard and tried in the place where these happen, exceptions are made to transfer hearing venue with no plausible explanation. Hearings for the Superferry 12 that happened in Cebu and the oil spill that happened in Guimaras were both transferred to Manila. Can prosecution and indemnification be expected if lawyers and authorities who are supposed to uphold maritime laws and maritime safety, are now the very persons seeking exception from the law?

The disaster perhaps is not so much at sea. What is perhaps disastrously deadly is when present structures, systems and procedures of maritime and coast guard authorities are no longer effective. Until there is prosecution, until there is indemnification, until there is accident prevention, only then can Coast Guard and Marina claim they are relevant to the maritime industry and show they are sincere and faithful about their jobs.

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Guimaras leaders protest unfinished cleanup by Petron

December 29, 2006

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer, Dec. 29, 2006

ILOILO CITY—Church groups and residents of villages that suffered from the Petron oil spill have called for a boycott of Petron products until the oil firm completes the cleanup of areas contaminated by the oil sludge.

The groups, led by the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) of the St. Vincent Ferrer in Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras, said the cleanup was not complete as claimed by Petron and an inter-agency task force.

“It is painful for us residents of Nueva Valencia to hear such statements knowing that there are still areas which remain to be cleaned,” PPC president Antonio Arnil Chan told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Chan said at least 30 percent of the oil sludge that reached the shores of Nueva Valencia town after MT Solar I sank on Aug. 11 remains unclean. Nueva Valencia is the worst hit of the five towns of Guimaras.

Chan said that in the island-village of Guiwanon, 220 sacks of oil-contaminated debris that were collected by clean-up teams have not been removed. The debris was supposed to be transported by barges to the Holcim Cement Plant in Lugait town in Misamis Oriental.

But a boycott of Petron will be counter productive because this will not hasten the cleanup, said Carlos Tan, Petron’s spokesperson on the oil spill.

Tan, reached by phone yesterday, also said it would be “impossible to remove the oil 100 percent” even as he insisted that they have cleaned up 180 km of coastline in Guimaras.

He said Petron would continue the cleanup if the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will certify that there are areas that still need cleaning. He said teams have already collected 6,000 metric tons of debris.

Petron, the regional inter-agency task force Solar I Oil Spill and the National Disaster Coordinating Council earlier said that the physical cleanup, especially of the shoreline, has been completed.

Petron hired around 1,000 residents for P300 per day in the cleanup operations. But work stopped months ago because the oil firm said it was already completed.

The residents who were earlier evacuated for health and safety risks have also been allowed to return to their homes.

The efforts of agencies have been shifted to rehabilitation because of this assessment.

But Chan said the government and Petron should stop issuing “irresponsible statements.”

In a manifesto issued in Guimaras yesterday, the Church group, along with environmental groups and residents, demanded the total cleanup of the areas by Petron.

“Petron is running away from its obligations of totally cleaning Guimaras. A huge volume of oil is still buried in the shores of Barangays San Roque, Lucmayan, San Antonio, Tando, Lapaz, Cabalagnan and Guiwanon with patches of mangroves already dying in said areas,” the manifesto said.

The groups said that Petron should be held accountable for “their own negligence in ensuring seaworthy contracted carriers.”

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Equipment being readied to offload oil from Solar 1

December 29, 2006

By Ronilo Ladrido Pamonag
The Philippine Star 12/29/2006

ILOILO CITY — An Italian firm is fabricating equipment to be used in offloading the remaining bunker fuel in the sunken tanker Solar 1 starting February next year.

The company, Sonsub, has been contracted to offload the oil from Solar 1, which sank off the coast of Guimaras last Aug. 11, triggering the country’s worst oil spill.

The 10 cargo holds of the sunken tanker are believed still containing over a million liters of oil. Petron had chartered the vessel to transport two million liters of oil to Zamboanga.

“They (Sonsub) are still fabricating equipment they would be using to offload the oil, and are waiting for the amihan season to end,” Petron spokesman Carlos Tan told The STAR yesterday.

Seas are usually rough during the amihan season. Marine experts said offloading oil is a delicate operation requiring fair sea conditions.

“The offloading operation is expected to begin middle of February next year. It will last for about 20 days. So far, there has been no change in the timetable,” Tan said.

“Sonsub is also talking to local tugboat operators for their services. As far as I know, Sonsub will be bringing only one of its ships from Singapore for the offloading. Then they will tap the services of local tugboat operators,” he added.

The Protection and Indemnity Club is footing the bill for the offloading operation, Tan said. But if the actual expenses exceed $6 million, the International Oil Pollution Compensation would shoulder the excess, he said.

Meanwhile, Tan clarified that Petron never claimed that the oil spill-affected areas have been fully cleaned up, saying it is up to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to make such a declaration.

He, however, said they are willing to conduct another round of cleanup operations if the DENR is not satisfied.

“If the DENR says, ‘Petron, this area is not thoroughly clean,’ then we would be willing to go back and clean it all over again,” he said.

———————————————————————————————–

Gee Caloy, you got scooped again by your own company’s press release huh? Try reading it on your Ligtas Guimaras site. Okay, since I’m feeling generous this Christmas, I’ll lend you a hand. Read your company’s mind-boggling cleanup claim right here.

http://sludge.files.wordpress.com/2006/12/petron-says-100-cleanup.pdf

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Shell surges ahead as Petron dallies

December 29, 2006

BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa
The Philippine Star 12/29/2006

THE usually media-shy Shell was in the midst of a flurry of press releases during the past week. The press item on the IPO was a non-event as it did not state anything new but was merely a reiteration of earlier statements that the eventual IPO of local Shell shares would depend on the results of studies about the refinery. This ongoing study has been Shell’s main excuse for the past two years.

What caught my eye and interest, however, was the press report that Pilipinas Shell has commissioned the Philippines’ first double-hulled tanker (Philippine Star, Dec. 15, 2006). The blessing and commissioning of M/T Petro Cara, a vessel owned by Transoil Corp., made Shell the first oil company to comply with the public clamor to upgrade vessels plying Philippine waters, thereby enhancing safety in sea transport.

I would have thought that Petron, which caused the worst marine disaster in the country by using a vessel that was single-hulled and reportedly not seaworthy, would have been the first to commission double-hulled sea-going petroleum tankers.

Paving the way

Being a former Shell staff, I feel elated that the current crop of Shell managers has finally decided that the company should lead the industry and pave the way towards overhauling its fleet of tankers that bring much-needed oil products to the different islands. Shell country chairman Ed Chua was reported saying that Shell will charter four more double-hulled vessels over the next two years.

In fast-tracking the commissioning of double-hulled oil carriers, I hope that Ed will give priority to the mothballing of the 25-year old single-hull (named Harvest Moon) oil tanker that Shell, I was informed, is still using. Let’s not wait for another Guimaras tragedy, guys.

Kudos to vessel owner Transoil

Hats off, too, to Leonardo “Boy” Leonio, the man behind Transoil Corp., for bringing the shipping company to where other ship owners fear to tread, and for committing a substantial investment that will boost the future of maritime business in the country.

Leonio, an avid golf player who keeps a low profile on his single-digit handicap, made the quiet and aggressive move to acquire the newly built double-hulled vessel while the rest of those in the maritime industry were still mulling on how to respond to increasing public outcry over the frequent sea tragedies.

According to Energy Secretary Lotilla, double-hulled vessels would help prevent the recurrence of an environmental calamity, such as the Guimaras oil spill tragedy last August, since a double hull tanker can withstand rough seas. Furthermore, oil will not leak from its cargo in case the vessel sinks.

So while Shell and Transoil jointly have taken the bold step to bring local maritime facilities up to international standards, Petron continues to dilly-dally. Maybe the lessons of the Guimaras environmental disaster it has caused have not yet sunk deep enough. Or maybe, Petron management feels that the P2 per liter Christmas discount given to its motorists during the holiday period is enough reparation to atone for its “sins.”

Reader lauds another Shell initiative

Another initiative of Shell earned the praise of reader David Palafox Ramos who wrote as follows:

“I read your column today entitled ‘Flying V soars in biofuel field.’ I believe that it is only proper to commend such companies who have worked tirelessly to pursue national economic agendas even if it is against the giants of their industry who seem to be solely motivated by profits.

“You also made special mention of Seaoil and Eastern Petroleum for their own efforts in the same endeavor. In this regard I would like to express the same sentiment towards Shell who seems to be the only one of the big three to take its own initiatives in developing alternative fuels. In fact, I would like to commend Shell for its efforts in making its ethanol-mixed fuel available ahead of any legislation.

“I have been driving on Shell E-10 for some months now since Shell came up with the product. With Shell E-10, I was able to buy a cheaper gasoline than unleaded fuel, and as I have personally proven with my car, provides more mileage than that of fuel sold by Caltex and Petron.

“To Petron, being a government owned company, I say — shame on you for not having an initiative to develop better and cheaper fuel alternatives. You should have been the one looking out for the Filipino driver instead of looking at just profits.”

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The inconvenient truths

December 28, 2006

jadelacruzbmjpg.jpg
Coast to Coast
By JA dela Cruz
BusinessMirror, Dec. 28, 2006

“AN Inconvenient Truth” is the global warming slide show of former US Vice President and internationally recognized environmental advocate Al Gore which was released worldwide several weeks before Christmas.

The way it looks, Gore’s show as this documentary has come to be known, could also be the precursor of a global trend toward public recognition and, more importantly, concerted action meant to address a number of critical issues which have heretofore been derided and swept aside as “bleeding heart concerns.”

This is not to suggest that such concerns have never before been brought to the fore with the same fervor and star action as this one. The worldwide AIDS and antipoverty campaigns, to name just two, have been replete and continue to be promoted with similar fervor and injunctions.

So it must have come as a pleasant surprise to Gore himself that the show’s reception has been nothing short of extraordinary turning out to be this year’s highest-grossing documentary and the third top grosser of all time. Which only goes to show that the public remains as appreciative and concerned about the increasing number of “inconvenient truths” which we, as a community, have to address to make our lives a little better and our world a better place to leave behind for the generations yet to come.

By the way, the trade in “blood diamonds,” another “inconvenient truth,” has spawned an equally hit movie starring an equally activist Leonardo di Caprio, and if we go by the reviews, the latest movie of another Hollywood icon, Mel Gibson, Apocalypto, is one among a number of top-ranked “ethnic cleansing” films which have come our way since a few years back.

What are we looking at here?

Well, we are looking at these examples as possibly the best way to bring home to the Filipino public yet again a number of “inconvenient truths” which have been conveniently swept under the rug or overtaken by events, as it were, but have to be addressed before we reap the whirlwinds, so to speak.

The matter of fires in public places and elsewhere, for example, which could have been avoided or mitigated but for a number of convenient reasons by those who should have known better.

Take the Ormoc Christmas day blaze which claimed the lives of 25 shoppers and gutted millions of pesos worth of property and its twin, the burning to the ground of four buildings within the Cebu provincial capitol compound, to name just two of the more sensational cases.

We are told that the Ormoc fire could have been avoided had the store’s management: a) been stricter with the actions of some shoppers and b) had properly segregated its goods specially the pyrotechnics away from the others.

More importantly, no shoppers could have been killed had the management (again) unlocked its fire exits and the city and its fire department been more responsive and equipped to handle such kinds of accidents. Year in and year out we have had these kinds of findings and prescriptions after every major fire yet we seem to have been deadened to the bones and continue to commit the same mistakes.

This is an inconvenient truth which will haunt us to the very end if we as much as unduly ignore it. I am not sure if we can say the same about the Cebu fire which from all indications was more deliberately done rather than conveniently neglected.

But just the same we have to raise our voices and ask that the public move to insure that avoidable tragedies, such as this, never visit us again. Or, at the very least, the damages, if any, are mitigated and bearable. If that means imposing heavier penalties on building owners, mall operators and the like, so be it. If that means chopping the heads of the negligent officials or putting their asses on the fire, so be it. But we have to face up to this inconvenient truth sooner or else.

The Guimaras oil spill and the continued degradation of our seas and rivers is yet another inconvenient truth which we have to face up to and do something, or else. Lest Petron and its advocates, in and out of government, or for that matter the other oil companies and the known polluters of our seas and rivers, think that all have been forgotten.

They have to be reminded that it is not so. They have to be reminded of the beleaguered state of the barangays and the seas affected by the spill. They have to be told of the board of inquiry’s injunction which has yet to be fully answered. Re-show the Guimaras documentaries all over the place and, if necessary, through the Gore network which we are told is readily available.

Bring the plight of the Misamis oil spill into the open together with the death of the Pasig, the slow decay of Laguna de Bay, Lake Lanao and the other freshwater lakes in this benighted land. If possible, get a crew to document the unmistakable tragedy which has visited our lakes, rivers and seas all of which could have been and will probably be open to remediation if only we touch the hearts and pocketbooks of those who have the most responsibility and the most to answer for our descent into this inconvenient truth of decay and neglect.

Indeed, this season may just be the best time to bring out all the inconvenient truths which have haunted us and will definitely haunt us still as we strive to move on without facing up to them and doing something as a community to mitigate the damage or avoid the same altogether.

May the New Year be one dedicated to freeing us from years of closing our eyes to the inconvenient truths in our midst and finally recognizing the need to face up to our obligations to our and future generations.

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