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Guimaras fisherfolk count huge toll of spill on livelihood

November 30, 2006

By Jonathan Mayuga
Correspondent
BusinessMirror, Nov. 30, 2006

NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras—Thousands of fishermen directly affected by the oil spill that devastated this town along with three others in the province of Guimaras have expressed gratitude to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund or IOPC for coming to the rescue.

While they hailed the IOPC, they expressed dismay that Petron Corporation, which owns the bunker fuel oil that “messed up” their source of livelihood, seemingly abandoned them and broke its promise to compensate them for the damage caused by the spill.

Mayor Diosdado Gonzago said the IOPC had promised to release the claims of around 4,500 fishermen before Christmas, and he expects 1,000 more to file their claims.

He said the compensation ranges between P3,000 and P24,000, depending on their level of income before the August 11 sinking of M/T Solar 1, the oil tanker carrying Petron’s 2.3 million liters of bunker fuel oil.

A massive information campaign was launched on Wednesday in this town by Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava concerning the environmental impact assessment recommended by experts who attended a two-day conference in Iloilo City, to tackle the Guimaras oil spill.

The IOPC has also promised to release an initial P22 million for the compensation claims of 1,400 fishermen in the town of San Lorenzo, who are among the 3,700 claimants in the town alone.

For a bachelor like Rex Cayanan, 24, a resident of barangay Tando, the compensation he will get of P13,000 will be a blessing, considering that he needs money more than ever because Christmas is near.

He said his brother Rico, 18, will receive P8,000 and two other sisters will get P3,000 each.

Cayanan, however, was dismayed at the way Petron’s representative allegedly “bargained” to have their compensation reduced.

According to Cayanan, he should receive P100,000 at least, considering the damage to his motorized banca and fishing nets, but he said Petron’s representative told them it would take a very long time if they ask for a bigger amount.

“That’s why I settled for P13,000. Anyway, this would be a big help for me and my [extended] family,” he said.

For Samuel Gandiela, 41 and his wife Maria Theresa, 35, who will receive P12,000 and P3,000 each, however, the amount is not even a quarter of what they actually lost because of the spill.

They are also concerned over the long-term effect of the spill on their livelihood, noting that since the spill, their catch was drastically reduced from a high of 20 to 30 kilos a day to a low of five kilos to nothing at all.

For Felomino Galbe, 64, and wife Myrna, 54, who will receive P20,000 and P3,500 each, the compensation is not enough compared to the trouble of having to borrow money from loan sharks. His motorized banca and fish net, which stretches up to 600 meters and costing P285 per meter, were destroyed.

“Petron promised to shoulder the cost of fixing our bancas and buying us fish net, but it broke its promise,” he said.

Worse, they said Petron had abandoned the clean-up operation in their barangay with still so much work to do.

“Who will do it now that they stopped the clean-up?” they said.

It was learned that Petron had stopped the clean-up in most areas in Nueva Valencia as early as October, prompting those who depend on the P300 fee they receive for the cleanup to return to fishing, with little hope of catching fish enough for their subsistence.

“Sometimes, we eat shells even if they taste bad because we have no choice,” one fisherman told BusinessMirror.

In at least three barangay in this town, the oil spill is blamed for the continuing deterioration of mangrove areas, including that of the University of the Philippines- Visayas Marine Reserve in Taklong, Nueva Valencia.

Nestor Yunque, a marine biologist and head of the UP Visayas Marine Reserve said the oil spill, or what remains of it, continues to cause the death of mangroves, which in some areas has now reached up to 40 meters.

He said officials are checking the possibility that the spraying of dispersants by the Philippine Coast Guard could have aggravated the situation, noting that in some areas, there are signs the oil spill’s impact had ceased to affect the mangroves—the most affected among those hit by the oil slick.

Although the oil spill has very little impact on fish, the fact that most people think they are not safe to eat even though the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) certified they are safe for human consumption has severely affected their livelihood.

“Who would eat fish when people think they are contaminated?” Yunque said.

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