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Fil-German kids lament loss of island-playground

September 13, 2006

Text and photos by HAZEL P. VILLA
Panay News, Sept. 13, 2006

NAGARAO ISLAND, Guimaras –THERE is no better playground than an island of white sand ringed with corals, nor is there a finer classroom than a mangrove forest for priceless lessons on ecology.

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(The Stummer brothers)

Filipino-German brothers Andreas, Mateus and Marvin had at first the nonchalance of children when they took the 15-minute motorboat ride from Kupo Wharf in Brgy. Sabang, Sibunag to Nagarao Island owned and managed by their parents Martin and Helen Stummer.

But upon disembarking on the island’s pier facing Sabang, the brothers were momentarily taken aback by the sight of some three volunteers loading oil-soaked debris on a small outrigger a few meters away from the white coralline beach.

Marvin, the youngest Stummer brother at 12 years old only had bare feelings when he said in Hiligaynon, “Nakibot ako (I was shocked).”

While Marvin liked eating crabs caught off the waters of Nagarao which is a marine reserve, Andreas, 19, was more partial to the beach front.

Mateus, 17, loved the natural forest of Nagarao and the seascape around White Monkey Rock, a rock formation beside Nagarao surrounded by coral gardens.

“When I was eight, I would swim and snorkel near the mangroves at high tide and pick shells of different colors. Some shells we boiled and we used anything sharp to pull out its flesh,” said Mateus.

The Stummer couple, now estranged, bought the island in 1986.

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(Nagarao island at sunrise)

Andreas and Mateus immediately checked parts of the 10-hectare island which their mother said in telephone calls was smeared with bunker fuel oil from the sunken MT Solar 1 that ran aground off southern Guimaras last August 11.

It was August 28 and the boys were absent from school so they could join their mom to meet President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was on her second visit to Guimaras Island and was scheduled to sleep in neighboring Costa Aguada Island Resort just to prove that Guimaras is still a place to visit despite the oil slick.

Except for Mateus who plans to go to school in Germany, Andreas and Marvin were busy with schooling and keeping house in Jaro, Iloilo City where they are based most of the time as their Ilongga mom managed the island.

The President’s visit was also the first time for the Stummer brothers to see their island-playground after the oil slick.

Had they seen the island on August 14 when the oil slick first crept on its beach at 2 p.m., they would have been more aghast.

“We had been warned earlier that the oil slick will come our way because of the current. And then we saw and smelled the oil,” said Helen as she recounted the first time she encountered the oil on the shores of Nagarao.

Helen’s sister, Mely Solayao-Karl and her 16-year-old son Michael from Wuerzburg, Germany, were set to enjoy their vacation but had no choice except to join in the frenzy of stopping the slick from reaching the beach.

It was like a joke, narrated Mely, 44, that they arrived together with the slick.

“I have wounds on my legs from helping pull those thorny, tall and lush plants beside the shore because we couldn’t think of anything else to do to stop the oil,” she said.

“This slick reaching Nagarao is the second tragedy of my life,” said Mely, a former manager of the island-resort before she married her German husband Karl.

The oil first smeared parts of the mangrove forest and then White Monkey Rock where tiny oysters and shells were, said Rima Tioco, a family friend of the Stummers who was with Mely upon her arrival in the island.

“Kalain-lain. Daw masuka ka. Daw ka-toxic (It was terrible. You felt like retching. It seemed so toxic),” said Tioco, 45, as she explained that the smell was most terrible when the bunker fuel oil stuck on organic and decaying things like driftwood and mangroves.

About 10 island residents and resort staff helped in putting up more oil spill booms and scooping the slick with their bare hands as they had no gloves or boots.

Five volunteers from the Iloilo City-based Mountain Tigers Rescue Volunteers stayed in Nagarao from August 15 to 29 to help in the clean-up with Helen spending more than P15,000 for the volunteers’ food and P100 daily allowance.

The native of Janiuay, Iloilo said the greater tragedy is in the loss of investments and the foregone revenue of Nagarao because of the oil slick.

Some 60 percent of Nagarao’s visitors are Europeans who normally stay for several weeks or months in Nagarao, which is 30 percent mangroves, 50 percent white beach, and 20 percent rock formation surrounded by coral gardens.

Helen said guests cancelled their bookings done months before when they heard of the MT Solar 1 sinking and the subsequent news about the spread of the oil slick.

A group of ten Koreans already gave their down payment for an overnight stay for August 21 and on August 30, a group of 30 people from Manila was supposed to stay for two nights in the island-resort’s 16 cottages.

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(Helen Stummer contemplates the damage to her resort.)

“From November to March, the Europeans would come here and some stay for as long as three months, including a couple who own a house here. All of them are gone now,” said Helen, sighing.

A day’s stay in Nagarao would be 38 US dollars (approximately P2,052) for a foreign tourist while locals are charged P1,700 per person per day.

The fees include three meals and accommodation, but excludes transportation expenses. While waiting for the President on August 28, Stummer said she had a conversation with Petron officials who said they will be “very cooperative” in helping Nagarao recover.

On Aug. 31, Melvin Ballester, a team leader of Petron for coastal cleanups came to Nagarao and said the island-resort could hire 15 persons for the cleanup whom Petron will pay P300 a day.

The hired persons were either staff of the resort and residents of the island who started work on Sept. 1 and will end on Sept. 15 after which Petron said they will be putting more spill booms around Nagarao.

“I asked Petron to refund me for my expenses prior to Petron’s help. That’s about P15,000 but Melvin said his bosses will still have to meet about these things. Up to now, nothing has come out of my request,” said Helen.

She said she won’t file for legal action against Petron if they pay her for her previous expenses of the clean up, continues to rehabilitate Nagarao and financially makes up for revenue losses.

The Ilongga said she is also banking on the 300 million dollars claims from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund currently in Guimaras to orient affected Guimaras residents and resort owners on how to go about the claims.

Helen’s estranged husband Martin had earlier threatened to file a 10-million-peso damage suit against oil refiner Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., owners of the sunken MT Solar 1. Martin, 66, said he had invested 100 million pesos over the past 18 years to protect the corals and marine life around Nagarao and to beautify the island.

Helen complained to the Inquirer that her estranged husband now living in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental, did not consult her about the said damage suit and was “bypassed” even in view of the fact that ownership of the island is in her name.

With legal wrangling and domestic squabbles the stuff of adults, the Stummer boys are settling with the fact that it may have to take a long time to bring back their island playground to its former pristine beauty.

“I have no idea how to clean all of that oil. Maybe just clean the rocks but it’s a waste of time because some of the oil might just come back,” said Mateus.

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