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Heat, discomfort hound evacuated Guimaras kids

September 25, 2006

By HAZEL P. VILLA
Panay News, Sept. 25, 2006

NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras – It may indeed be a sunny day but for some 98 pupils of the Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando, laughter and playfulness mask their discomfort as they try to make the best out of makeshift classrooms since the overpowering smell of rotten eggs drove them out of their school by the seashore.

School since August 22 for Day Care and Grades 1 and 2 is the chapel of the Catholic Church, the Aglipay chapel for Grades 5 and 6 and a tarpaulin tent for Grades 3 and 4.

The heat is almost unbearable and some 15 minutes of staying in the tent, though under the shade of coconut trees, makes one perspire on top of a discomfiting feeling brought about by topsy-turvy chairs and noisy children.

“It is so hot here. I tell the kids, let us bear this. Just keep on fanning yourselves. We can’t afford not to hold classes,” said Priscila Galvan, teacher in-charge of the multi-grade school.

She and two of the school’s three teachers were sitting at the outskirts of the tent during recess, fanning themselves as their wards noisily played outside.

The only portable blackboard had only a few scribbles on it.

RETREAT

Galvan said they had no choice but to retreat to the interior of Brgy. Tando here 11 days after Petron-chartered M/T Solar 1 sank off the southern part of Guimaras carrying 2.19 million liters of bunker fuel oil.

Some of the spilled 1.3 million liters washed on the white sand shores of Tando and other beaches of Nueva Valencia, Sibunag and San Lorenzo – three towns of Guimaras hardest hit by the country’s worst oil spill.

In the days that they stayed in their campus some five to eight meters away from the beach, Galvan said six pupils in Grades Five and Six complained of headaches, and tightening of the chest.

Grade One pupil Jeilyn Albaña and Grade Five and Six teacher Gemma Garde vomited.

Galvan said they did not transfer to the interior of the village right away because the children had to finish taking their first grading periodic exams.

The school children and teachers were given medicines, said Galvan, but the worse was yet to come.

When the school children transferred, the workers hired by Petron constructed a tent made of tarpaulin sewn together which leaked during rainy days, but this was nothing compared to the stench of what Galvan said was a drum of chemical dispersants near the tent.

WORSE SITUATION

“Petron’s chemical dispersants were smelly. People won’t die from the bunker fuel oil, but they will die from the smell of the dispersants. The drum was open and the stench was a pain in the chest,” said Galvan.

The teacher added that after their complaints sometime in the last week of August, Petron did not use the chemical dispersants and had these taken away.

“We are now immune to the stench,” said Galvan.

Petron’s health, safety and environment manager Carlos Tan, has repeatedly denied that the corporation ever used dispersants in the shorelines of spill-affected villages.

He also told the Inquirer it was the first time he heard of the state of the evacuated school children and that he would have workers fix the tent.

“The ones who provide the relocation sites are the local governments, not us,” said Tan on September 17.

SLOPPY WORK

Galvan was also incensed with the sloppy work of Petron-hired workers who “painted” with cement on the second week of September – the school’s breakwater made of rocks and corals that were smeared with oil.

Even a coconut tree by the breakwater with its broad roots awash in oil was “painted” with cement, to the great consternation of Galvan who could not explain the logic of it all.

“The clean-up workers told me it was Petron who ordered them to cover the breakwater with cement but Petron’s supervisors denied it when we confronted them. They said they will work on the breakwater again but I could still see some oil because of the thin film of cement,” said Galvan.

Tan said Petron was not the only group doing clean-up operations in Tando, mentioning “private individuals” and volunteer groups from Iloilo who took it upon themselves to help.

“The workers we get are residents and hence, we expect them to do well because after all, this is their place and they would not resort to shortcuts,” said Tan.

WISH FOR COMFORT

Galvan said she and the teachers wished all classes could be held in one big comfortable tent with electric fans, but as to who would pay for the electricity is something that even Brgy. Captain Olivia Evangelista could not answer.

Tando, with its 204 households and a population of more than a thousand, has some nine families or about 45 people evacuated to the interior of the village around the plaza on Sept. 13 since they lived within 100 meters of the shoreline ordered off limits by the government.

The evacuation came after a preliminary health and environmental assessment conducted by the Department of Health in collaboration with the University of the Philippines National Poison Management and Control Center dated August 28 showed toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide in the air of villages Cabalagnan, La Paz, and Tando in Nueva Valencia.

The high levels of hydrogen sulfide resulted to the sickness of 25 adults and four children in these villages, said the report.

The top five clinical complaints in the three villages, according to the report, were dizziness (65.5 percent), headache (44.23 percent), body malaise (34.48 percent), numbness (31.0 percent) and cough (24.13 percent).

As it is now, life for the pupils of the Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando remains bleak.

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