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More evidence of Petron cover-up

September 19, 2006

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UNCOVERING THE TRUTH. Teacher Priscilla Galvan of Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando points to the oil sludge on the breakwater of Brgy. Tando, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras concealed with a thin layer of cement. The sludge should have been removed instead of concealed, she says.

Text and photo by DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Sept. 19, 2006

GUIMARAS – The head teacher of an elementary school in Brgy. Tando, Nueva Valencia accused Petron Corp. of literally covering-up the oil sludge in their village, instead of getting rid of them. Tando is the worst hit of the oil spill among the many barangays in this island-province.

On September 14, Priscilla Galvan said, she checked the clean-up operations near the Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando and found to her dismay that the oil sludge sticking on the trunks of shoreline coconut trees and breakwater have not be removed and were instead concealed with a thin layer of cement.

Ginsugo sang mga taga-Petron ang naga-obra nga tabunan lang sang semento (Somebody from Petron ordered the laborers to cover the sludge with cement),” Galvan told Panay News.

The Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando is about five to seven meters from the shoreline of the barangay. The unbearable stench of the bunker oil sludge washed ashore forced school officials to transfer classes to higher grounds.

Galvan, the school in-charge, also said some oil sludge along the shores of their coastal barangay “may mga portion nga ginlubong lang sa balas (were concealed with sand).”

Clean-up operations in Brgy. Tando have been going on for a month now since the oil spill began in August 11.

Galvan belied the Project Ligtas Guimaras Situationer released by Petron on September 13. The Situationer reported that the clean-up in Brgy. Tando had been completed.

MEMO

On September 11, clean-up operations were stopped in Brgy. Tando (and Brgys. Cabalagnan and La Paz).

The unnumbered memorandum dated August 28, 2006 issued by DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III revealed that the high level of toxic fumes had sickened 25 adults and four children.

The memo also had as signatories Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, University of the Philippines in the Visayas Chancellor Glenn Aguilar, Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela and National Disaster Coordinating Council Executive Director Glenn Rabonza.

According to the memo, test results showed that the elevated hydrogen sulfide in the air at Brgy. Cabalagnan was at 537.9 to 2,145 parts per million (ppm) while that in La Paz was 13.2 to 165 ppm.

“Aside from 29 sick residents, one death was reported in Sitio Banakan, Brgy. Cabalagnan,” the memo added. There were no details on the death.

Also, the top five clinical complaints in the three barangays, the memo stated, were: dizziness (65.5 percent), headache (44.23 percent), body malaise (34.48 percent), numbness (31.0 percent) and cough (24.13 percent).

“Significant physical exam findings were dermatologic in nature (17.24 percent) and tearing of the eyes (10.34 percent),” the DOH memo added.

NO WORK, NO PAY

Four days after the cleanup was stopped, it was resumed. On September 13, 2006, residents in Brgy. Tando resumed working.

Kun wala sang obra, anu isustenir nila sa panimalay nila (If they won’t work, how could they sustain their families),” Tando barangay kagawad Alberto Galvan told Panay News.

Petron, which directly hires the laborers for the cleanup, is observing the “no work, no pay” policy.

Pigado ang pangabuhi, dugangan pa gid sang oil spill (Life is hard. The oil spill has made it worse),” Kagawad Galvan lamented.

Brgys. Cabalagnan, La Paz and Tando have a population of about 3,500; they rely mainly on fishing.

Recently, the Philippine Coast Guard restricted fishing activities in the areas affected. The people have no other alternative livelihood but to participate in the “cash for work” scheme of Petron despite the risks posed by the bunker oil’s toxic fumes.

LACK OF CONCERN

There was an apparent lack of concern from Petron, lamented Priscilla Galvan of the Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando.

Wala man sila nagapamangkot kun kamusta na diri (they never bothered to ask how things are doing here),” she said.

Galvan said pupils were suffering from dizziness, headache, cough and nausea. She identified one pupil who had symptoms for several days as seven-year-old Jeilyn Aldaña.

On August 22, Galvan said they evacuated 98 pupils from the school due to the “stinking fumes.” About 100 meters from the school and near an evacuation center, an improvised classroom was erected. Pupils have to content themselves learning under a tent.

Nagareklamo ang mga estudyante kay grabe ang init (Pupils were complaining of the heat). It was not conducive for learning,” Galvan said.

When it rained, “nagatulo kay damô lusbot ang atop (the tent leaked for it is riddled with holes),” she added.

It was later decided that classes for pre-schoolers would be held at the barangay’s Catholic church; classes for grades one and two were held at a day care center; those for grades three and four at the tent; and for grades five and six, at the adjacent Aglipayan church.

“I don’t want the pupils to leave the school. But we can no longer bear the offensive odor from the sludge. We don’t know the effects (of the toxic fumes) on us,” Galvan explained.

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