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Is Petron pulling the wool over Guimarasrons’ eyes?

September 21, 2006

THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina
The Philippine Star 09/05/2006

I HAD already started addressing the ambitious one-week tourism show by the Department of Tourism in Iloilo City on Oct. 23. Then I suddenly found myself confronted by an ugly spectacle — the discovery of a dump for oily debris in a Guimaras village.

That may have been dismissed as an aberration until the lot owner, a coastal village housewife, admitted that Petron had leased the area for one week for only P300.

That could have been admissible. Except that the reporter asked her that if it were to be for only one week, how come the area had been cleared and bulldozed several feet deep. That stumped the housewife.

Next was the picture of another dumping ground which the authorities of Nueva Valencia had discovered. They were ordering the workers to haul out the dumped debris kept in oil-resistant bags. These were loaded onto a cargo truck under their watchful eyes to be transported to a waiting barge.

As pointed out by local observers, Petron officials had apparently taken steps to dump part of the recovered oil seepage on the very grounds of Guimaras which Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava had objected to earlier. Nava contended that the recovered oil could contaminate ground water and render meager potable water resources dangerous for drinking.

My attention was also caught by the bewilderment of Marinduque officials as to the source of the bags of oily debris that had been washed ashore in that island-province.

Puzzling. A major guessing game in the works.

Then, a head teacher of Barangay Tando of Nueva Valencia charged Petron Corp. of having literally covered up the oil sludge in their village with quick drying cement instead of cleaning it up.

The head teacher, Priscilla Galvan, told the Panay News that she checked the cleanup operation near the school — Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando — on Sept. 14 and was shocked to discover that the oil sludge that had stuck to coconut trunks along the coastline and breakwater had only been covered by a thin layer of cement.

She claimed that it was a Petron official who had ordered the cleanup workers to cover them up with cement.

Last Sept. 13, Petron declared the cleanup operations in Barangays Atando, Cabalangan and La Paz virtually completed.

In short, what is the game being played in Guimaras?

Except for local officials, even government officials seemed unaware of what has been going on right under their noses.

Neither the Philippine Coast Guard nor the members of the National Disaster Coordinating Council seemed to have been around when these things were discovered by mediamen.

One begins to wonder whether they have relaxed their guard.

The problem is that the eyes of government probers have been focused on the strong possibility that Solar I may have been hit by another ship alongside it that caused the tanker to sink.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez himself came up with the theory that the classic paihi might have happened and the receiving ship might have collided with the tanker. The paihi is reportedly a strategy where oil is transferred via a pipe to the hold of another vessel.

In stormy weather that poses the possibility of another ship ramming against the tanker.

The reason is that underwater pictures of the sunken tanker showed some highly questionable vents in the vessel. And these are vents that could be opened only deliberately, not by the current.

Two ranking military officers told a Negrense sugar farmer the other night that they are more convinced about that theory and hope that Gonzalez as well as the Board of Marine Inquiry would investigate it.

And many in Iloilo and Guimaras have been quizzical about how come Petron chairman Nick Alcantara has not personally visited Guimaras to see the conditions on the ground.

“No less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had gone there twice at least to assess the situation by herself, and yet Alcantara remains in his air-conditioned aerie in the National Capital Region,” pointed out an Iloilo critic.

Yesterday, I received a copy of the assessment report discussed in Monday’s Regional Development Council meeting. It showed the damage to other mangroves and that a total of 367.29 hectares of fishponds in Guimaras have been affected by the oil spill. This reportedly forced fishpond operators to declare an emergency harvest of undersized stocks and stop their operations.

The estimated value of standing crop damage was P1,069,185. But that is only the cost of the stocks that had to be prematurely harvested.

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Yeah, Nick…what’s so great about being stuck in your airconditioned office in Manila when you can walk along Guimaras’s oil-slicked beaches and inhale the perfume of rotten eggs in the air?

Oh and yeah, why didn’t you go see Gov. Nava in person instead of sending former DENR secretary Bebet Gozun, hmmm? (Poor woman got stressed by your sordid FGLA-tribal affair.) You afraid of stumbling on one of the barge platforms and falling into the sludge too?

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