PDI Editorial: Polluters pay

August 29, 2006

WHAT could possibly be the worst oil spill disaster to hit the country is now engaging the attention of government and private agencies as well as foreign organizations. And well that it should, because it is affecting the lives of tens of thousands of people and damaging extensive areas of sea and land. Its effects could last well beyond the present decade.

The first concern, of course, is to contain the oil spill to prevent it from causing more damage than it has already done. The second is to give aid to the tens of thousands of people whose livelihood has been affected by the pollution of the sea in which they fish and of the land on which they plant. The third is to pinpoint responsibility for the sea disaster and penalize the guilty parties. And the fourth is to pass laws and lay down guidelines to prevent a repetition of the disaster and mitigate the damage caused by similar accidents.

On the third point, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has said that Petron Corp. could be legally responsible for the massive oil spill off Guimaras Island. He likened the oil spill to the Philsports (formerly Ultra) arena stampede during the staging of the “Wowowee” show last Feb. 4.

Petron has said that “technically, the liability for the oil spill damage rests with the ship owner.” It also said it felt it had a moral responsibility to give aid to the affected communities.

It should be impressed upon Petron that it has a legal, and not just a moral, responsibility to make restitution for the damage that the oil spill is causing. Petron should be reminded of the internationally accepted principle that “the polluter pays.” The principle is that a company that causes pollution should pay for the cost of removing it, or provide compensation to those that have been affected by it.

The principle has received strong support in most of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Community. In 1989 the Council of the OECD approved the Guiding Principles Relating to Accidental Pollution. One if its provisions says: “In most instances and notwithstanding issues concerning the origin of the accident, the cost of such reasonable measures taken by the authorities is initially borne by the operator for administrative convenience or for other reasons. When a third party is liable for the accident, that party reimburses to the operator the cost of reasonable measures to control accidental pollution taken after an accident.”

(Click here for the rest of the piece, published Aug. 29, 2006 in the Phil. Daily Inquirer.)

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