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2 lawmakers urge Petron to stop oil leak from Solar I

September 23, 2006

• Drinking water tainted
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star 09/23/2006

TWO members of the House energy committee urged Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. to immediately take steps to stop the oil leak from the sunken oil tanker MT Solar I.

Representatives Eduardo Veloso of Leyte and Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado made the appeal in the wake of the revelation of presidential coordinator for Western Visayas Rafael Cosculluela, who is also overall coordinator for “Ligtas Guimaras,” that oil continues to flow from the sunken vessel at a rate of at least 120 liters a day.

“The leak should be stopped once and for all; otherwise the cleanup drive will be useless. We are wasting our time, effort and money on this. While plugging the leak is possible, it seems those concerned are too slow to decide on this,” the two said.

They said the responsibility of Petron and Sunshine, owner of the tanker, does not end with locating the vessel and providing P300 per day for every resident involved in the cleanup.

“The immediate concern now is to stop the leak and protect the environment and the population,” they said.

They added that it should not take a report or a reminder from officials for Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. to move since it is these entities that should take the initiative.

“The lingering threat to people’s lives and the environment brought about by the oil spill and unabated oil leak should compel these two companies to find ways to hasten siphoning of the remaining oil and stop the leakage. We cannot just sit and wait until all the remaining oil had leaked out. That would mean slow death for the marine resources and livelihood in Guimaras,” they stressed.

The two congressmen pointed out that Petron and Sunshine are lucky since had a similar spill happened in other countries, the culprits would be facing damage suits that could cost them billions.

The country’s laws on oil contamination and pollution are not strict and those polluting the environment get away with their crime easily, they noted.

On Friday, Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas urged the Senate to pass a tough anti-oil pollution bill that could deter oil companies and transport companies from destroying the environment.

Gullas said the House passed Bill 4363, or the proposed Oil Pollution Compensation Act, on Nov. 14, 2005 and transmitted it to the Senate that same month.

It has since been awaiting the senators’ action, he said.

The measure, principally authored by Bataan Rep. Antonino Roman, seeks to incorporate as part of Philippine law the provisions of the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF).

Under the bill, owners of ships that “cause pollution damage or create a grave and imminent threat of causing such damage” would be liable for expenses incurred in cleanup operations at sea or on shore, costs for preventive measures, loss of earnings suffered by owners or users of contaminated areas, damage to human health or loss of life, and environmental damage and cost of rehabilitation and restoration.

Gullas said Petron is a contributor to the IOPCF and has announced that the fund would make available some $315 million to cover clean-up costs, spoiled property and consequential losses as a result of the Guimaras oil spill.

Oil contamination

Meanwhile, in Iloilo City, health authorities have warned against the intake of water sourced from wells near the coastline after a laboratory exam showed that water and soil samples from three barangays in Guimaras were positive for oil contamination.

Department of Health regional office OIC Dr. Edgardo Gonzaga said yesterday the results of a laboratory examination conducted last Sept. 4-6 showed “really high” levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons in samples taken from Barangays Tando, Cabalagnan and Lapaz, all in Nueva Valencia town, considered the municipality hardest hit by the oil spill.

Gonzaga advised residents against consuming contaminated water. “They should not get their water from the wells where the samples were taken,” he said.

The DOH plans to conduct another round of tests to see if there have been changes in the level of toxic elements in these areas, he said.

Over the week, the DOH conducted 921 consultations in Guimaras, with respiratory illnesses accounting for 68 percent. Gastrointestinal illnesses, skin and eye irritations account for the rest.

The DOH central office will be sending over replacement cartridges for the half-face masks used by coastal cleaners. The masks protect cleaners against the inhalation of toxic fumes coming from bunker oil. — With Ronilo Pamonag

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