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GUIMARAS FAR FROM SAFE, CLEAN

October 15, 2006

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WHO’S TELLING THE TRUTH? On the surface the shoreline (topmost photo) looks clean but underneath the ground the oily debris is still there; Fresh coat of cement can still be seen on this seawall; The Guardian’s Francis Angelo uses a bamboo pole to dig up the swamp in Brgy. LaPaz, Nueva Valencia. (Photo from The Guardian web site)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo
The Guardian Iloilo, Oct. 14, 2006

MEMBERS of the Iloilo media who got an earful from an executive of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) went back to Guimaras to see for themselves the present condition of the shorelines.

Their conclusion?

The island province is far from safe and clean.

Residents and officials of Brgys. Tando, Lucmayan, San Roque, LaPaz, Canhawan and Igdarapdap in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras attested that their villages are still contaminated with bunker oil that leaked from the ill-fated M/T Solar 1 which was chartered by Petron Corp.

On surface, the beaches look clean but beneath the sand is the oily debris that still bothers the affected residents.

They also claimed that the salaries of cleanup volunteers were “shaved and padded.”

IOPCF deputy director Joe Nichols earlier scolded the media for dwelling on negative stories relative to the oil spill.

Nichols even told the media to see for themselves the clean and clear beaches of Guimaras.

The NDCC also declared Tuesday that Guimaras is safe from toxic gases emanating from the bunker fuel.

CEMENT COVER-UP

Christy Bongar of Brgy. Tando said Petron employees supervising the cleanup in their villages ordered them to cover with sand some areas in the shoreline contaminated by bunker fuel.

Bongar also alleged they were made to apply cement on the seawall also to hide the stains of bunker fuel.

“Petron ordered us to coat the bunker fuel stains with sand and cement so it will not be visible. We have no choice because we need work,” Bongar said.

Bongar said their punong barangay Olivia Evangelista met with Petron employees to discuss the alleged “cover up.”

She also revealed that sometime last week they were made to sign a payroll showing that they were paid P300 for a day’s work but they only got P200 cash.

Bongar said Evangelista’s son who acted as one of the paymasters also complained about the salary system.

Evie Relos also said their village is not yet clean as they are still living at the evacuation center.

“You can see for yourself that the oil is still on our shores, how can they say it is clean? Maybe they just want to stop the cleanup by saying the area is already safe which we do not agree,” Relos said.

The media also discovered at Sitio Alman Sur in Brgy. LaPaz that rocks and seawalls were covered with cement. Chipping away the cement will show bunker fuel stains on the rocks.

Cleanup volunteers in the area said Petron employees applied the cement to make the rocks look beautiful.

OIL DOWN UNDER

Boboy Padojinog said Brgy. LaPaz is also far from being clean as the nearby Sitio Taguican is also mired with bunker fuel.

Damul pa didto ang bunker. Nag panglimpyo gani sila liwat kay may bisita (The bunker oil there is still thick. They even resumed the cleanup because they have visitors),” Padojinog said.

Padojinog also pointed to several houses where oil sank beneath the swamp. The residents dug the swamp to show oil oozing out of the ground.

Kagawad Luzminda Basco of Brgy. LaPaz also claimed seeing Petron workers covering with cement the seawall coated with bunker fuel.

“But we stopped them because they have no clearance from the Coast Guard and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As you can see, some areas of our village still have bunker fuel but they already stopped the cleanup. Our residents are even complaining because they have yet to return to fishing,” Basco said.

Joselito Miagano of Brgy. Canhawan said sea waves have covered the bunker fuel on their shores but oil fumes still emanate from the ground during hot weather.

Gasakit ang dughan sa bahu ko labi na gid kung mainit (I have chest pains because of the odor, especially when the weather is hot),” Miagano said.

Resort owner Timoteo Gatoteo of Sitio Banacan, Brgy. Cabalagnan also witnessed how cleanup volunteers hauled sand to cover the oily debris on the beach.

“If they mean cleanup, they should take out all the bunker fuel from the shoreline. They just covered the area,” Gatoteo said.

Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga said the testimonies of the residents and the situation of the beach line show that their town has yet to be cleared of the bunker fuel.

“Next time, before the higher ups declare that everything is okay, they should double check and let us know so we can verify. They are giving false hopes to our people,” Gonzaga said.

Gonzaga added several evacuees asked if they can return to their villages but he told them he has yet to get an official word from health and environment officials.

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