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Petron: Criminal raps over Guimaras spill no basis

November 15, 2006

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer, Nov. 15, 2006

ILOILO CITY – Officials of Petron Corp. and the owner of the sunken tanker Solar I have asked the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office to dismiss the criminal complaints filed against them in relation to the massive oil spill that hit the island.

Carlos Tan, Petron health safety and environment officer and company spokesperson, said the criminal charges lacked “factual and legal basis.”

Tan, who filed the counter-affidavit dated October 23 on behalf of other respondents such as Petron president Khalid Al-Faddagh, chairman and chief executive officer Nicasio Alcantara and vice president for operations Felimon Antiporta, said the giant oil firm had nothing to do with the operation and sailing of the Solar I.

Tan’s counter affidavit, which was received on November 10 by the provincial prosecutor’s office and released on Wednesday, said Petron officials were not responsible for the sinking of the tanker because the incident “resulted from accidental causes or causes which are beyond the control of Petron or the (respondents).”

The respondents were charged with violating Republic Act 9275 (Clean Water Act of 2004), Republic Act 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) and Republic Act 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000).

The violations carry a punishment of six to 12 years imprisonment or a fine from P10,000 to P500,000.

Also named respondent was Clemente Cancio, president of the Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. (SDMC), which owns the tanker that sank 13.3 nautical miles off Guimaras Island on August 11.

The complaint was filed on September 13 by Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga of Nueva Valencia town on behalf of his constituents who were affected by the oil spill. Nueva Valencia is the hardest hit by the oil spill among the five municipalities of Guimaras.

In his complaint, Gonzaga said the oil spill brought massive destruction to the province’s rich marine resources and severely affected its tourism industry and economy. He also pointed out that fumes coming from the oil sludge had sickened residents and polluted the communities.

Gonzaga also accused the respondents of unauthorized dumping of contaminated debris in San Antonio village and the spraying of unauthorized chemicals along the shoreline of the village of Guiwanon.

But Tan said in his affidavit that the tanker was seaworthy when Petron contracted it to transport bunker fuel to Zamboanga City.

He also contradicted the August 23 report of the Department of Health and the University of the Philippines National Poison Management and Control Center that the level of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic substance, was significantly higher than tolerable levels in the worst hit villages of Cabalagnan and Lapaz.

“If the above DoH assessment reflected the actual elevated (hydrogen sulfide) conditions, we should expect that the DoH analysts who took the readings in Cabalagnan, as well as the residents in the vicinity, would have suffered instantaneous collapse, cessation of respiration and death,” said Tan in his affidavit.

Tan also denied that Petron employees transported, dumped or discharged unauthorized chemicals along the shoreline. This claim was supported by Petron employees Antonio Veloso, Joey Ortega and Rolan Fontana in separate affidavits.

The employees said they only provided equipment and hired residents to spray salt water as part of the cleanup of the shoreline.

They also denied they used a lot in San Antonio village as a dumpsite. Tan said the site was only used as a “transshipment point” and a “temporary staging area” which they used for 10 days from August 30 to September 9 before the collected debris were shipped to the Holcim cement company in Lugait, Misamis Oriental.

Cancio, in a separate counter-affidavit dated October 25 and received on November 2 by the provincial prosecutor’s office, also called for the dropping of the complaint for lack of probable cause.

He said most of the allegations in the complaint were directed to Petron personnel and officials and not to employees of his company.

He also pointed out that violations of the Clean Water Act were under the sole jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and not by regular courts.

Lawyer Plaridel Nava II, Guimaras provincial legal officer, had formally asked the prosecutors’ office to give the provincial government more time to file an amended complaint that would include other respondents such as the Petron employees who filed affidavits in support of Tan.

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