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Guimaras folk deeply scarred by oil spill, rehabilitation still hangs

December 19, 2006

By Estrella Torres
Reporter, BusinessMirror
Dec. 19, 2006

NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras—The trauma of the oil spill has left deep scars in the hearts and minds of the people returning to their villages here more than three months after the disaster took place.

Shirley, 45, lives in the coastal village of Tando, Nueva Valencia, along with her husband and three small children. This village is the hardest hit of the M/T Solar 1 oil spill on August 11.

Her children seem to be happy to be back in their once picturesque playground but the small fishes that abounded in mangroves are gone. Their nipa hut is also splattered with oil debris.

Shirley claims that her husband, a fisherman, could no longer catch the same volume of fish that he used to net before the disaster. “Konti na lang ang huli naming isda at karamihan mahirap maibenta sa palengke (Our catch is fewer now and most of it very difficult to sell),” she said.

President Arroyo ordered the release of P1.2 billion as calamity fund, of which P800 million is intended for the rehabilitation of Guimaras communities.

Evan Anthony Arias, supervising planner of the island province of Guimaras, said the P800 million has not yet been released to the provincial government in the absence of an IRR or implementing rules and regulations for the fund. The IRR would have to come from the national government.

“The P800 million is supposed to be used for the rehabilitation of mangroves and provide assistance to the communities to look for alternative livelihoods, but until now, not a single [centavo] has been released to the provincial government,” Arias said.

Arias has briefed reporters on the development of the rehabilitation of affected families of the oil spill in Guimaras. The briefing is part of the Tourism Recovery Program for Guimaras by the Department of Tourism.

“The oil spill has hit Guimaras where it hurts most as it crippled two of the three economic drivers of the province which are tourism and fishery,” said Arias. He said the province will have to rely heavily on the agriculture sector.

At least 11 of the 16 coastal villages in this town have been affected by the oil spill. Arias said the coastal zones are the most critical areas because they are the center of social and industrial activities.

Arias said the oil spill has long impacted on food production in Guimaras due to the degradation of the marine environment, disruption of food chain and decrease in fishery production.

“The downward cascading effect [on] the marine environment is intensified agriculture and tourism activities that will result [in] increased rate of soil erosion,” said Arias.

He said Petron has stopped the cleanup operations in the affected coastlines and has also stopped the payment of P300 per day to each community member involved in the clean-up.

“But there is enough proof that the oil spill debris remain in the coastlines and mangroves,” said Arias, stressing that the cleanup activities should continue.

There are around 13,000 registered claimants to the Guimaras compensation worth US$2.7 million from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF). At least 21 resort owners have already been paid P396,888. Claimants from Nueva Valencia are expected to get the bulk of the amount, or P60 million.

The relief efforts have also stopped and the poor villagers were left to wait for compensation and making ends meet with the insufficient fish that they catch these days.

Environmentalists and scientists from Worldwide Fund and the University of the Philippines-Visayas are still in a deadlock on the best scientific approach to the cleanup.

The scientific conference conducted by the two groups on November 27-28 in Guimaras were “inconclusive,” said Arias.

He said the only hope left for Guimaras to lessen the damage of the spill is the plan of IOPCF to siphon off the oil remaining in the hold of the sunken M/T Solar 1.

The IOPCF has contracted the Italian company Sonsub to siphon off the oil from the sunken oil tanker that will be conducted from February to March next year.

As hope gets dim for the people of Guimaras, Shirley and her children and the rest of the families living in the affected coastlines remain resilient in their effort to get their lives going in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“Hindi namin iiwan ang dagat, nandito ang ikinabubuhay namin, dito ko rin gustong palakihin ang mga anak ko (We can’t leave the sea, this is where we have livelihoods, this is also where I want to rear my children),” she said.

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