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Coverup not cleanup in Guimaras

October 26, 2006

Bassinette Noderama
The Guardian Iloilo,
Oct. 17, 2006

MY maternal relatives based in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras have owned fishponds for several generations. Our place was one of those affected by the country’s worst oil spill caused by the sinking of M/T Solar I in August 11.

I avoid writing on this topic because it is very difficult to control my emotions. There are many things I want to include, but it is better that I don’t.

Looking at the Guimaras tragedy, I should say it is very painful to see the destruction of what used to be paradise. The old folks shed blood, sweat, and tears to develop what used to be virgin territory into a productive stretch. The younger ones just inherited the fruits of the previous generations’ sacrifices. It’s heart-wrenching to see the damage in my playground.

My childhood memories include a house perched on the highest part of the mountain. Other houses were several kilometers away. Everything in sight was beautiful.

From the porch, the sparkling waters off the island offered a refreshing sight. Wild birds flying over fishponds broke the monotony of the pristine landscape. Abundant marine resources not only ensured our food, but also allowed us to buy whatever we wanted.

Even poorer folks did not go hungry because they could also avail themselves of nature’s bounties. From the waters, they could get fish, crabs and lobsters, shells and seaweeds and sell them. They could also grow rice, fruits and vegetables and sell them all the same. Others also engaged in cottage industries.

Sadly, high levels of toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide prompted health officials to ask these coastal residents to evacuate. Some villagers sought refuge among relatives, and some went to evacuation centers. Many subsisted on dole-outs because their primary source of income was cut off.

Anyone who visits the spot can empathize with a victim, but the feeling is different if you yourself are the victim. A visitor who can smell the stench of bunker oil can choose to leave immediately; a resident who has no other place has to get used to it.

We are very grateful that aid and relief poured in from all sources. Many people even have sleepless nights just figuring out what to do to help us.

Indeed, it is very difficult to control my emotions. I’m writing this as a reaction to the reports that disaster managers plan to bury in the island the left-over oil sludge. What if we creatively package the oil sludge and deliver some to their homes as Christmas souvenirs?

I doubt that Guimaras is already cleared of oil debris and therefore safe from toxic gases, when the municipal health officer of Nueva Valencia herself said that they have not issued a clean bill of health on the 12 affected barangays.

Lately, when a group of media men including our Managing Editor Francis Allan Angelo visited some affected areas, residents and officials of six barangays attested that the beaches may look clean on the surface but there is still oil underneath. A resident also said they were ordered to cover with sand some affected areas. They also applied fresh coat of cement on the seawall.

The pictures that appeared on the front page of last Saturday’s issue of the Guardian proved all these. Such schemes rather make for a cover-up, not really a cleanup.

Since a picture “says a thousand words”—so I am more convinced by the facts presented by my newspaper colleague plus the pictures he took on location—rather than the pronouncements given by people who claim that Guimaras is already cleared of oil debris. After all, to see is to believe.

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