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Lessons from a disaster

August 30, 2006

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By Jonathan A. Dela Cruz

TWO weeks into the devastating Guimaras oil spill is not too soon the government to draw a lesson. First, the matter of disaster response and accountability. While we agree that we should all put our heads together in speeding the clean up and spare Guimaras and the other affected areas from a second or even third disaster by getting the remaining three-fourths of the 2 million liter Solar I cargo out of the waters as soon as possible, that should not be used as a cover to spare or diminish the responsibilities of those concerned.

For if truth be told, apart from Petron’s unapologetic resort to quibbling and legalisms in response to its principal responsibility as the polluter-of-record in the country’s and possibly Asean’s worst oil spill, the government’s feeble response to this disaster has been downright contemptible. For an administration which prides itself in micro managing every aspect of national life and a corporate giant which trumpets its “good governance” record every which way it can, the response was by itself disastrous.

Except for the local government and the provincial disaster control committee (PDCC) and the Coast Guard which had to make do with their limited resources, there was no real government presence in and around the disaster area until President Arroyo decided to visit the province nine days after the tragedy, That it took Malacañang days before it ordered the creation of a task force to coordinated government response to the disaster was very telling.

Did the timid response had anything to do with the fear of liabilities which Petron management may have injected into the entire response formulation? Did it have anything to do with the reputed standing of Petron chairman Nick Alcantara with the Palace and the business community which would have brought that relationship into closer scrutiny?

Suffice it to say that in this instance the Palace failed miserably to live up to its responsibility and its reputation at a time when its presence was most needed. Even DENR Secretary Angie Reyes whose department introduced itself enthusiastically into a largely phantom “environmental issue” in the ongoing Poro Point controversy was nowhere to be found at a time when his presence was expected and was deemed critical.

What we had expected from both Petron and the national government was a more active and creative presence.

(Click Malaya for the rest of the column, Aug. 30, 2006.)

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