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Probers run after Petron; solon scores DOJ chief

September 8, 2006

• Special Board of Marine Inquiry says refiner could be held liable

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
and GEROME DALIPE IV

GUIMARAS – Giant oil refiner Petron Corp. could be held liable for the oil spill that damaged the marine resources of Guimaras, the livelihood of its people, fishing grounds and marine sanctuaries, said a top-ranking Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) official.

Rear Admiral Danilo Abinoja, chair of the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI), rapped Petron for M/T Solar 1’s overloading. He said the tanker’s sinking could have been averted.

Abinoja’s position on Petron’s liability contrasts that of a Department of Justice undersecretary who cleared the oil refiner of criminal liability.

Solar 1 was chartered by Petron to transport its 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel oil to Zamboanga. It sank in the rough seas of the Guimaras Strait and spilled about 250,000 liters of oil.

The spill destroyed mangroves, fishing grounds and marine sanctuaries in Guimaras and nearby Negros Occidental and Iloilo provinces.

The SBMI is investigating the sinking to determine those culpable. Initial findings showed that the tanker was overloaded “not by fuel.”

“There were other cargoes loaded in the vessel… The vessel should not go beyond the 4.86 meters drop mark,” Abinoja told Panay News.

In Iloilo City, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza denounced Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez for issuing “visibly disturbing statements” that tend to tarnish the reputation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that is investigating the Guimaras oil spill.

“I think the Justice Secretary should not issue any visibly disturbing statements on behalf of the DOJ; the investigation on oil spill is not yet finished,” Maza told a news conference yesterday.

An investigating panel by the DOJ cleared Petron Corp., the country’s largest oil firm, of criminal liability in the sinking of the MT Solar I last September 5.

Justice Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda, chair of the fact-finding team, however, said that Petron may still have civil liability because it commissioned the ill-fated tanker.

“We are still studying the civil liability of Petron but criminally, we don’t have a case against it because it had no direct knowledge of the circumstances that led to the sinking … [We found no] criminal liability on the part of Petron, only civil liability,” Pineda said in a radio interview.

(For the full stories, click Panay News, Sept. 8, 2006.)

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