Guimaras not yet clean – residents

October 16, 2006

SEE THIS? Twenty-four-year-old Christy Bongar says a little scratch on the sand would expose a sullied shore. She claims “cash for work” laborers were ordered to cover with sand some areas in the shoreline contaminated with bunker fuel. Cement was also brushed to the breakwater to hide traces of bunker fuel. (Photo from Panay News)

Panay News, Oct. 15, 2006

GUIMARAS – Petron Corp. claimed to have cleaned 140 kilometers of the 300-kilometer coastline of the island-province stained by bunker fuel spilled from its sunken chartered vessel, M/T Solar 1.

Residents belied this and challenged officials of the oil refiner and government agencies concerned to “to see for themselves” the real situation.

Residents in some barangays also claimed that Petron had stopped the “cash for work” program only to resume it Friday last week because “visitors are coming”.

Friday last week, a pool of reporters visited oil spill-affected sites that were declared clean by the National Disaster and Coordinating Council (NDCC) and Petron to check the veracity of their pronouncements.

In press conferences last week – Tuesday and Wednesday – NDCC and Petron declared some areas of the province “clean” and that hydrogen sulfide fumes from oil-stained shores were within “safe” levels.

Such declaration got the ire of local government officials and residents of Brgys. Tando, Lucmayan, San Roque, La Paz, Cabalagnan, Canhawan and Igdarapdap.

“Look around you. Is this clean?” asked Evey Relos, a 49-year-old resident of Brgy. Tando, as she pointed to the discolored shores.

Siguro, gusto lang nila ideklara nga matinlo kay gusto nila mag-untat na ang obra sa baybay (Perhaps, they want to end the clean-up operations),” Relos added.

The “cash for work” program in Brgy. Tando was stopped for several days. Workers did not know why and were wondering, because there are still oil sludge to be removed. Then on Friday, some workers said they were ordered to resume working “because visitors are coming.”

Twenty-four-year-old Christy Bongar said a little rub of the sand would expose a sullied shore. She claimed Petron employees supervising the clean-up ordered them to cover with sand some areas in the shoreline contaminated with bunker fuel. Cement was also brushed to the breakwater to hide traces of bunker fuel.

“We have no choice. We need work,” she said.

She identified one Petron employee, a certain “Aying”, as the one who ordered them to cover the stained shores with clean sand, and brush cement on the breakwater and trunks of affected coconut trees.

Lucmayan Barangay Captain Elsie Gambalan was the one facilitating the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) reparations for her constituents. Of the total 446 families, Gambalan disclosed, 272 families rely on fishing for their livelihood.

In Lucmayan, tons oil sludge remain and are yet to be hauled, Gambalan said.

Sacks of debris pile up

“As you can see, sacks pile up here. Residents have no other alternative work. They have no choice but to be involved in the cash for work program,” she added.

Compensation claims include damages in fish capture, mariculture, fish processing, fish selling, shell gatherers, mangrove grower, fishpond and fishing boat operators.

Gambalan said there still remains a vast area needing cleaning.

“It would be better if those who declared that the areas here are clean can take a look for themselves,” stressed San Roque Barangay Captain Romeo Segovia.

Segovia said at least seven kilometers of the barangay’s shoreline got contaminated and “all families were deprived of their livelihood (which is chiefly fishing).”

“What will happen (to my people) if the cash for work stops? We have no alternative livelihood,” he lamented.

He said Petron ordered them to stop working because “basi tinlo na.”

Reaching Sitio Alman Sur in Brgy. La Paz, reporters – a composite team from a television network, a radio station and local dailies – were stunned. A long stretch of breakwater and stones tarnished by the bunker fuel were “brushed” with cement.

According to Boboy Padojinog, 40, a certain “Abel”, team leader from Petron supervising the clean-up, ordered the workers to obscure the blemishes with cement.

“Petron employees supervising the cleanup initiated to brush our seawall to make it look beautiful. They stopped after we protested,” Sitio Sumirib Barangay Kagawad Luzminda Basco disclosed. Sitio Sumirib is part of Brgy. La Paz.

She named the Petron employees responsible for such initiative as “Alfie” and “Churchill.”

“Our place is not clean yet. But Petron stopped the cleanup. Residents are complaining. Wala pa gani kabalik ang pangisda, untaton na ang trabaho (There’s no fish to catch. What shall we do?),” Basco added.

“Visitors are coming.” This was also the reason why, according to Rumagangrang Beach owner Timoteo Gatuteo Jr., Petron told him to cover his oil-stained beach with clean stones and sand.

Gatuteo’s beach is at Sitio Banacan, Brgy. Cabalagnan. “Several metric tons (of sludge and oil stained debris) were retrieved from my shores, causing a contour in my beachfront.”

In Brgys. Canhawan and Igdarapdap residents said the shores may look clean but the ground still smells of rotten eggs.

“We have chest pains due to foul smell, particularly when the weather is hot,” said Joselito Miagano of Brgy. Canhawan.

Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga insists that “the problem remains” and they should have been consulted prior to the declaration of the NDCC.

“When they (Task Force Guimaras and Petron) declared that the shores were already clean and safe, my constituents (those living onshore) called to ask if they can go home,” Gonzaga said.

“I was surprised,” Gonzaga said.


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