Just compensation for oil spill victims sought

January 6, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos

ILOILO CITY — The Archdiocese of Jaro has called on residents of Guimaras Island affected by the oil spill to reject a settlement agreement that waives their right to file future damage claims related to the oil spill.

In a press conference on Thursday, Msgr. Meliton Oso, director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, also called for Petron Corp. and insurance firms to pay “just compensation” to the affected residents.

Oso said the affected residents were being paid “pittance for the surrender of their rights” to seek “just compensation” from Petron Corp. and the insurance firms.

The Archdiocese has tapped the assistance of the Sapalo and Velez Law Offices to help the residents seek higher compensation.

The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund has started paying Guimaras residents affected by the oil spill. The checks being released by the IOPC range from P3,000 to P32,000. The IOPC is a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies losses resulting from oil spills.

Around 13,000 residents have filed for claims for economic losses arising from the oil spill after the M/T Solar 1 sank in stormy seas off Guimaras on Aug. 11. The tanker, which was transporting more than 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel oil for Petron from Bataan to Zamboanga, spilled over 300,000 liters of its fuel content in the waters off Guimaras, coating coastal areas with oil sludge.

Nearly half of the claimants from the five municipalities of Guimaras have received payments. The IOPC aims to complete the payments for Guimaras claimants by next month.

In an earlier interview, IOPC deputy director Joe Nichols said the amount of compensation was derived from claims of losses reported by the claimants and the average income of claimants before the oil spill.

Retired Judge David Alfeche Jr. said the one-page agreement signed by the claimants upon receipt of cheques from the IOPC was “disadvantageous to claimants.”

He pointed out the provision that states that claimants “irrevocably” waive their rights for further court claims from the owners of Solar I related to oil spill damage..

Alfeche said this agreement would bar the residents from seeking future claims if another oil spill would happen from the wreck.

“The Solar I is still there and there is a possibility, even if remote, that oil spills could happen because the bulk of 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel is still inside it,” Alfeche said in the press conference.

Many of the affected fisherfolk could have been unaware of the implication of signing the agreement in their desire to receive the compensation, said Alfeche.

Affected communities of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 continue to receive payments until now and have even increased their claims, according to Alfeche.

But Plaridel Nava II, Guimaras provincial legal officer who notarized the agreement signed by the claimants, refuted Alfeche.

“They (residents) can still claim for damages if another oil spill from Solar I happens,” said Nava.

At least 234 residents of the island-village of Guiwanon in Nueva Valencia town have signed a statement refusing to sign the final settlement agreement.

Alfeche said they would assist the residents who had not signed the agreement and had not received any compensation to ask for higher compensation from the IOPC.

But he said it would be difficult for those who were already paid and who had signed a quitclaim because they would need to get the quitclaims nullified. He said the litigation would take a long time and would be expensive because they would be against the IOPC and Petron. (Cebu Daily News, Jan. 6, 2007)


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