By Maricar M. Calubiran
The News Today, Dec. 29, 2006
INSANITY, sleepless nights, hardship, death of a sow and piglets, loss of income of a sari-sari store, loss of beach sediments, hampered transport operation of tricycles, and rentals of land used as depository site of collected oil debris.
These are among the “strange” claims made by the oil spill-affected residents from Nueva Valencia, Guimaras, according to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), which were quickly denied for being inadmissible.
A source from the IOPCF said a claim form submitted to the Fund by a male claimant attested that he suffered “insanity, sleepless nights and hardship” when they were evacuated from their barangay. The same claim form was not attested and verified by the claimant’s barangay captain. As a rule, every claim should be verified by the barangay official.
One claimant also wants the Fund to pay him some P20,000 for his sow and 15 piglets. It was written in his claim form that the sow and the piglets died because of the oil spill. Again, the claimant had no documentary proof to back up his compensation claim. The claimant argued that the death of his pigs could be considered as “property damage.”
Another claimant said he lost his income from his sari-sari store for three years because of the oil spill. When checked, the sari-sari store does not cater to tourists who visit the island but to local residents. No records of purchases and store transactions were presented. Besides, the oil spill happened only last August 11, 2006.
Likewise, a claimant wants the Fund to pay for the “lost sand, gravel, rocks and other beach sediments” from the shores of Nueva Valencia when Petron ordered the clean-up operation in areas affected by the oil sludge. The claimant based his environmental damage claim on the number of sacks of oily debris collected by Petron.
A group of tricycle drivers also asked payment from the Fund for their “economic loss.” They claimed that they had few passengers particularly the foreigners because of the oil spill.
Some land owners is also asking the Fund to pay them rent after their property was used as depository of the collected oil debris. There are some properties on the island which was contracted by Petron to be used as depositories pending the arrival of the barges to transport the debris and all the wastes collected during the clean-up operation.
According to Joe Nichols, IOPCF Deputy Director/Technical Advisor, the claims of insanity, sleepless nights, hardships are considered psychological in nature and are not related to property damage. The claims are considered “inadmissible” under the organization’s policy. The Fund primarily pays for the property damage.
Nichols said they have also encountered such claims in Korea. The Fund won in the legal battle at the lower court. Then, the claimants brought the case to the Appellate Court after they lost. The Appellate Court favored the claimants in its ruling. However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Court and ruled in the Fund’s favor. It was a landmark decision which was later used by the Fund in all compensation claims filed before their office.
On the case of the dead pigs, Nichols smiled at how the claimant was able to conceive such idea. “If the claimant can prove that the death of the pigs was caused by the oil spill and it falls under property damage, then the Fund is going to pay him,” said Nichols.
In the case of sari-sari store and tricycle drivers, Nichols said these are the types of livelihood which do not directly rely on tourists but on locals. “The Fund is very generous when it comes to compensation claims. However, the claim should be based on the contamination of the affected areas which resulted in the damage,” Nichols said.
Regarding the loss of sand, stone, rocks and other beach sediments, Nichols said the claimant does not own the shore. “The cleaning method employed by Petron was manual and the area has the ability to recover naturally. It is exaggerated and it’s one claim that the Fund will never pay,” he said.
On the claims of land rentals, the claimant should produce a contract on who made the transaction with them. “It is a reasonable claim on the part of the landowner. However, there is no reason for the landowners to file claims if Petron has already paid them the rent,” Nichols said.
He said those who filed such peculiar claims would be notified about the inadmissibility of their claims.
Further, Nichols disclosed that the Fund has discovered a number of false claims and double claims. Nichols declined to give details on who among the claimants, especially in the fishery and tourism sectors, made fraudulent claims. However, he assured that the Fund has enough measures to detect false and fraudulent claims.
Nevertheless, Nichols said most of the Guimarasnons who filed their claims are “honest.” The Fund was satisfied with the data they provided.
The Fund hopes to finish releasing the checks by next month. Currently, it is processing 60 claims per hour. “We want to pay all of them by the end of January,” said Nichols.
Yep, IOPCF can’t pay for the psychological impact of the oil spill. This is why lawyers should now be brought in to file the necessary lawsuits against the perpetrators, Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., owner of the sunken Solar I vessel. A class suit is definitely called for.