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Greenpeace, mediamen question ‘gag order’

September 9, 2006

THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina
The Philippine Star 09/09/2006

WESTERN Visayas presidential assistant Rafael Coscolluela stressed that the restriction of the National Disaster Coordinating Center on anybody, notably the Philippine Coast Guard, from releasing any statement to the press, was no gag order.

He said it was only intended to obviate the possibility of misinterpreting and misunderstanding events reported.

Mediamen, on the other hand, were free to ask anybody about what was happening and to interview any official on the ground. Otherwise, all official releases had to be cleared with Manila, in the case of the Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Arthur Cosigan, who is in Manila, he said.

The two most avidly sought PCG officers on the ground immediately became no longer available to comment on what was happening on the ground.

By Thursday, Greenpeace fired the initial salvo. It seems that the international volunteers could hardly get anything from anybody of importance on the progress of the cleanup. Militants also joined in later with questions about Petron’s participation in the cleanup and the expenses of the various ongoing projects.

But there was a breakthrough. ABS-CBN managed to spot a kilometer of oil sheen coming out from the area where Solar I had earlier been pinpointed by Shinsei Maru to have sunk. In short, the oil sheen, which is not thick enough to pose a danger to the environment as much as the oil slick, still had to be controlled. And PCG ships were around ready with dispersants.

Jose Campos, vice president for marketing of Petron, earlier told mediamen in Bacolod City that the Coast Guard’s boats and ships as well as Petron’s hired boats had encircled the area.

And he adverted to the dramatic underwater photos of the tightening of the valve of one of the compartments.

But there was a problem. He did not give a timeframe for the retrieval or whatever solutions which the Shinsei Maru and its crew would recommend.

That drew from Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Marañon an exasperating statement that no assurances had been given as to when the remaining bunker fuel on Solar I will be removed off the coast of Guimaras.

Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava also weighed in with his observation that there is a need to fast-track the removal of the bunker fuel and the oil-contaminated debris from Guimaras.

Nava pointed out that it is already one month after the oil spill, and the remains of the sunken tanker continue to pose a threat to the health of the people and environment.

This was exactly the same point raised by Marañon. We shall remain in suspense so long as no action is taken to neutralize the remaining bunker fuel.

There were points raised by some observers that the corrosive action of seawater on the steel walls separating the compartments. How long will they last?

The situation was further roiled yesterday when militant youth groups in Iloilo condemned the order of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to mobilize ROTC students in helping clean up the oil sludge in Guimaras.

Both the League of Filipino Students and the Anakbayan pointed out that the order risks the health and safety of students who will be exposed to toxic chemicals in the areas affected by the oil spill.

In effect, that reposes the cleanup task of the contaminated areas from the spillers to the students, it was pointed out. Petron, through Jose Campos, vice president for marketing, earlier told Negros mediamen that it is now paying P300 per day some 1,600 displaced fisherfolk of Guimaras and two Iloilo towns in the cleanup of affected areas.

The Media Ecological Movement pointed out that the people and not Petron and the Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., operator of Solar I, are now bearing the brunt of the oil spill.

MEM spokesman Ma. Geobelyn Lopez pointed out that the snail-paced response of the national government in immediately addressing the problem makes the people suffer the consequences of the oil spill.

But there was also the good news. The oil sheen spotted Thursday heading toward the direction of Silay City and Talisay City reportedly veered off toward Concepcion in Iloilo province.

Silay City Mayor Carlo Gamban reported that the Coast Guard vessel, which rushed to the area, said the sheen, thicker than usual, had already moved out from where it was originally spotted toward Iloilo.

Yesterday, workers started transferring sackloads of oil debris from several trucks on board a local barge docked off Nueva Valencia. The retrieved debris will reportedly be transported to the Holcim cement plant in Lanao del Norte. The firm will reportedly use the oil for its operational needs.

That’s the last word about the Guimaras oil spill. We may have to settle for the long wait as to how the problem on the sunken tanker and its more than a million liters of bunker fuel will be addressed. Meanwhile, as pointed out by both Gov. Marañon and Nava, it remains at the bottom of the sea like a ticking time bomb.

(For the rest of the piece, click Rolly, Sept. 9, 2006.)

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3 comments

  1. “But there was also the good news. The oil sheen spotted Thursday heading toward the direction of Silay City and Talisay City reportedly veered off toward Concepcion in Iloilo province.

    Silay City Mayor Carlo Gamban reported that the Coast Guard vessel, which rushed to the area, said the sheen, thicker than usual, had already moved out from where it was originally spotted toward Iloilo.”

    with all due respect, it may be good news to the people of negros, but definitely not to the people of iloilo.

    all of us affected in one way or the other of this petron oil spill are victims.


  2. Why hasn’t anyone threatened to boycott Petron until they start doing something *significant* as opposed to just doing PR and doling out P300. That’s small change compared to the damage they’ve done. They are responsible, no matter how you look at it. I for one am boycotting Petron until AT LEAST they get that tanker out of the water.


  3. Jeffrey as far as I know, there is an ongoing boycott of Petron in Iloilo, which had been pushed by the locals and government officials there.

    I, too, have already been calling for a boycott of the company’s gas stations and its products. (My post about is somewhere on the site. Thank you for reminding me to renew the call again.)



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