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‘Petron Balde’

September 3, 2006

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SUNDAY STORIES
By Marlen V. Ronquillo

WHEN impossible official incompetence perfectly blends with breathtaking corporate indifference, what do we get? The getting-worse-by-the-day environmental nightmare in Guimaras, which can tear apart the ecological fabric of a small, impoverished province and wreck its already fragile health-care system. And death and dying, if these have not cursed its coastal towns yet.

The Guimaras oil spill is our version of the Exxon Valdez, but we might as well call it “Petron Balde” for the pathetic, almost heart-rending manner by which affected residents have tried to contain the oil spill caused by the bunker fuel that gushed from a Petron-chartered oil carrier. The first line of defense against the oil spill in and off Guimaras are a phalanx of townspeople that have been scooping off the black curse from the waters via the most potent pollution-fighting gear they have—the lowly pail, the balde.

This takes place while Petron, the most profitable corporation in the country, is on a media overdrive, feeding the media with its supposed acts of corporate responsibility, while, yes, death and dying are already settling down in Guimaras.

Film all the scenes and we can all spot the difference—the great disconnect. On the one frame are the barons of the oil industry, in their pricey ba rongs and Zegnas, looking smug in press conferences while mouthing standard lines about helping Guimaras.

On the other frame are the coastal residents whose lives have been savaged by the toxic oil spill, who will find the sea, their life-support system, a curse and not a blessing in this generation and the next. The men seem to have a uniform: tattered sandos, dirty polyester shorts, battered sandals, eyes stripped of every glimmer of hope.

Where was our dear leader in the scheme of things? Getting photographed in her summer wear just off the murky, toxic waters, promising many things that were worth a day’s headline and prime-time TV sound bites. Which, in reality, were gusts of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. Visit and run. Critics have a term for this: parachute governance.

Click Marlen for the entire column, Sept. 3, 2006.)

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