Archive for March, 2007

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Oil retrieval operations nearing conclusion

March 31, 2007

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, March 31, 2007

ILOILO City – The oil recovery operations from the sunken MT Solar 1 are expected to be completed over the next few days.

Task Force Solar 1 Oil Spill (Task Force SOS) disclosed that less than five thousand liters of bunker fuel oil may be recovered by Allied Shield vessel from the sunken tanker.
The latest progress report from Sonsub, the Italian firm hired for the oil recovery operation and owner of Allied Shield, showed that at least eight (of the 10) compartments of the tanker have already been penetrated.

Following the clean-up operations on the affected shorelines of Guimaras, the Protection and Indemnity Club, insurer of the sunken vessel, contracted Sonsub to retrieve any remaining oil in the sunken MT Solar 1.

Carlos Tan, Petron Health, Safety and Environment manager, said the corporation hired experts to assess the spillage of the bunker fuel on land and sea. Satellite footages showed that the volume of bunker oil spilt may have reached 1.6 million liters.

(The rest of the story at Oil retrieval.)

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IOPC starts paying oil spill claimants in Iloilo city

March 31, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today,
March 30, 2007

THE International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund has started paying nearly P3 million to residents of Iloilo City affected by last year’s oil spill in Guimaras.

OPC Fund claims manager Patrick Joseph, said they will pay a total of P2,790,614 to 819 residents of coastal villages of the city.

The residents received checks ranging from P1,200 to P6,200 at the Barangay Fundidor gymnasium yesterday and until today.

Joseph said the oil spill had “minimal effect” to claimants in Iloilo City. “They suffered disruption of their fishing for around two weeks,” said Joseph.

City Agriculturist Jose Gil Parreñas said the claimants are fishermen along the coastline and along the Iloilo River.

The IOPC will also pay P57 million to around 11,000 claimants of Iloilo province.

Last year the Fund paid around US$2.4 million (P118.5 million at P49.375=$1) to 11,225 residents of Guimaras Island. The victims each got around from P4,800 to P32,000 from the IOPC, a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies losses resulting from oil spills.

Joseph said they will next evaluate the claims of around 15,000 residents of Guimaras in the next round of payments.

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Guimaras attorney seeks reversal of ruling junking case vs. Petron

March 30, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today
March 29, 2007

THE municipality of Nueva Valencia in Guimaras on Tuesday appealed the dismissal of the complaint against officials of Petron Corp. and owners of the MT Solar I in connection with last year’s massive oil spill in Guimaras.

In a nine-page motion for reconsideration, Guimaras provincial legal officer Plaridel Nava II asked the provincial prosecutor’s office to reverse its March 2 resolution dismissing the complaint filed by Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga.

Gonzaga had filed the complaint against Petron president Khalid Al-Faddagh and chair and chief executive officer Nicasio Alcantara, vice president for operations Felimon Antiporta, health safety and environment officer Carlos Tan and Clemente Cancio, president of the Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., owners of Solar I.

In his motion, Nava said the resolution issued by Provincial Prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin “is not in accord with law and evidence on hand.”

He said the prosecutor also “erred in giving much premium on legal technicalities rather than the spirit and intent of the law.”

Calmorin dismissed the complaint against the respondents for 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) for lack of evidence.

In dismissing the complaint, the prosecutor had said in his resolution that the sinking of the tanker and the oil spill were unintentional acts. He also said there was no evidence to show that the respondents were responsible for illegally dumping and discharging waste material.

But Nava said that the issue whether the sinking and oil spill was deliberate or not has “never been the subject of the complaint.”

He pointed out that the complaint was “anchored on the massive use of dispersants in shallow water habitats such as mangroves, sea grass beds and coral communities that should have been avoided given that the bunker fuel is not acquiescent to treatment with dispersants considering its toxic effects and its contribution to spreading the impacts over a wider area.”

Nava reiterated that Petron should be held criminally liable for the spraying of dispersants by Petron-hired personnel at the shoreline of Barangay Guiwanon in September without authorization.

He said the prosecutor also “erred” in the interpretation and application of Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 979 (Marine Pollution Law).

“While the law is intended and directed against intentional and deliberate acts, the complaint does not pertain to the sinking of MT Solar I or the spillage of oil but is founded upon the unlawful discharge of liquid substance into the water bodies or along the margins of any surface water,” said Nava in his motion.

He also pointed out that “the sinking of MT Solar I could have been avoided had Petron Corp. been more prudent in selecting the vessel that would carry its bunker fuel oil.”

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Standard Chartered, Petron and CSR

March 29, 2007

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REPORTS about the continuing woes bedeviling giant companies Standard Chartered Bank and Petron, among others, should give everybody pause.

Coming as they did in the wake of tales of malpractices and irresponsible behavior, in and out of the corporate world, these reports bring into focus the need to revisit the ways of these institutions, especially at this time when their influence, good or bad, extend to every nook and cranny of the world.

Which is why it is not enough for corporations to simply parade their so-called CSR credentials with using gimmicky bleeding-heart advocacies. Their day-to-day practices should be thoroughly examined as well the better to appreciate what in reality is the essence of their corporate existence.

One remembers, for example, that the giant Swiss food and beverage company, Nestlé, has been busily tooting its horns over donations to summer sports clinics and the like using Milo, Nestea and its other healthy beverage products as platforms. Nothing wrong with sponsoring these undertakings, mind you. But we should not be taken in by these kinds of initiatives.

Beneath this seemingly “good citizenship” veneer is the heart of steel that is Nestlé’s character. By far, based on its known practices and untold horror stories of its activities in the Philippines, Nestlé may yet be the best example yet of the stodgy, cold corporate giant preying on hapless consumers by spending tons of monies on legal and advertising operations, among others, which can only be described as distinctly antiworker and antipeople.

Nestlé, among all the giant companies with huge and extensive operations in the country, is known for its violent labor-relations history. As of last count, three of the last four presidents of the rank and file union were reported killed during the pendency or immediately after the end of CBA negotiations. In fact, the Nestlé unions have been the subject of management interventions for years.

Some quarters in the corporate circles claim that it bulldozes its own network of suppliers and distributors with all kinds of pressure, which have prompted them to bring the company to court. That is not to mention the suits brought against it by competitors for questionable practices. We are told that there is not a day in the courts, especially in Metro Manila and suburbs when a Nestlé case doesn’t get heard.

Anyway, Nestlé can be the subject of other, more intensive investigative reports, which we intend to pursue with other organizations many of whom have battled the giant company in other fronts for years on end,

Back to the Standard Chartered Bank and Petron cases: we are told that BSP investigators have been acting on the administrative complaint of a certain Manuel Baviera, the bank’s former HRD manager, has found sufficient evidence to charge three top bank executives of selling unregistered securities which is in violation of BSP rules.

Charged with unsafe and unsound banking practices were the bank’s former RP unit CEO, Paul Simon Morris (he has since been transferred to Indonesia), legal and compliance department head Marivel Gonzales and trust officer Ma. Ellen Victor.

The BSP investigators noted that the three have violated banking and securities laws by selling billions of dollar-denominated mutual funds to more than 1,000 investors, contrary to existing rules and regulations. Baviera was one of those investors and he claims that he was bilked of $8,000 in investments as a result of the bank’s wayward practices and negligence.

Of course, the bank denied having undertaken the things which Baviera claimed it did. There was even talk early on that Baviera was just trying to get even with the bank for a number of perceived slights and prejudicial practices insofar as his work as HRD manager was concerned.

But the fact that the BSP has recognized Baviera’s claims should put added pressure on the bank to come clean. That will now be the subject of hearings before the BSP’s Office of Special Investigations, which will most likely determine what kind of sanctions can be imposed on the three and even on the bank itself.

We await with bated breath the outcome of the hearing but this early we can almost see the hand of compromise and wrist-slapping coming into play. For if truth be told, the sale of global securities and similar products by other banks, especially units of the huge foreign banking groups has been going on in similar schemes all these years. In fact, the BSP was quick to point out that the Baviera revelation was nothing new; it has been going on for years.

And, get this, Baviera himself has been the beneficiary of similar operations in the past, which he apparently failed to question until the time he had a spat with Morris and company. Be that as it may it behooves the BSP and all concerned to monitor the hearings and see how this tale will eventually play out. It will have a big impact on the way we do business in this country for years.

As to Petron, well, we now know that the prosecutor’s office has issued its findings on the Guimaras oil spill to the effect that there is insufficient evidence to charge the giant oil company of neglect and related offenses as a result of this incident.

That is a big letdown, of course, especially for the people of Nueva Valencia which is the town most affected by the spill. We heard Mayor Gonzaga over radio two days ago decrying what he termed as a miscarriage of justice and vowing to fight for his townmates’ rights all the way. He noted that they will file a motion for reconsideration before the DOJ as a result.

But more than the expected compensation to the townspeople as a result of this litigation like in the Exxon Valdez case in Alaska, what is really troubling in Guimaras is the fact that Petron continues to hem and haw about its obligation.

What we would have expected the company to do was an Exxon putting up a trust fund for the long-term rehabilitation of Guimaras and the welfare of its people.

Instead, it has stopped even its own work-for-cash program and remains tentative about its long-term commitment to Nueva Valencia and the province.

That is really most unfortunate and, yes, irresponsible by any standard. We hope our friends in Petron will revisit their commitments to Guimaras and ensure that the same are done with the kind of intensity and care that the motoring and consuming public has given them and the other oil companies all these years. Dapat lang, di ba? (BusinessMirror, March 29, 2007)

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Solar I spilled almost 2M liters of oil off Guimaras

March 29, 2007

By Carla Gomez and Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
2007-03-28

ILOILO CITY—The MT Solar I spilled close to two million liters of bunker fuel when it sank off the coast of Guimaras Island in August last year, not just 350,000 liters as initially thought.

The volume officially makes the Aug. 11, 2006 oil spill the worst in the country’s history followed by the December 2005 oil spill off Semirara Island, which involved more than 300,000 liters of bunker fuel.

Officials involved in the oil recovery operation reached this conclusion yesterday after they found that at least five tanks on board the Solar I were empty, according to Carlos Tan, the health, safety and environment officer of Petron Corp.

As of yesterday, 9 of the 10 tanks, which were supposed to contain 2.2 million liters of oil on board the tanker, had been opened by the Allied Shield, a vessel tasked with retrieving oil from the sunken vessel. Only 5,000 liters of oil were found in them, Tan said.

With only one more tank to open, Tan said it was believed that the bulk of the oil cargo spilled out but he gave assurance that the cleanup of the oil that hit the coast of Guimaras had already been completed.

Rafael Coscolluela, presidential assistant for Western Visayas and the spokesperson of the regional Task Force Solar I Oil Spill (TF SOS), confirmed that a minimal amount of bunker fuel was found inside the wreck of the Solar I, which was lying 639 meters underwater, 9 miles south of the island province of Guimaras.

“It appears that most of the oil was already released at the height of the oil spill,” Coscolluela told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Coscolluela said the nine cargo tanks accessed by the operation had minimal amount of bunker fuel or were empty.

The total amount of oil recovered 16 days into the operation reached only around five cubic meters. The amount is not even enough to fill up the shuttle that transports the recovered oil underwater to the Allied Shield ship on the surface hovering over the site of the wreck, said Coscolluela.

Solar I has 10 cargo compartments with five on each side of the ship. Each compartment has an average capacity of 200,000 liters or a total of 2.195 million liters.

Solar I was carrying 2.1 million liters of oil owned by Petron Corp. when it sank amid stormy weather. Previous Coast Guard estimates on the remaining bunker fuel left inside Solar I were from 250,000 liters to 300,000 liters.

The oil spill wrought destruction on 27 villages in the towns of Nueva Valencia, Sibunag, San Lorenzo, Jordan and Buenavista in Guimaras and in the towns of Sara, Concepcion and Oton in Iloilo. It also reached the coastal villages of Iloilo City.

It brought hardships to 6,156 families or 30,531 persons, mostly fishermen who lost their livelihood.

The island’s rich marine resources were also devastated with 239 km of coastline, 15.8 sq km of coral reefs, 105 hectares of mangroves and 42 ha of seaweeds damaged or destroyed.

Hundreds of residents were stricken with pulmonary diseases at the height of the oil spill and were evacuated from their homes after the oil sludge reach their shores.

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(From Petron’s web site)

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Love finds oil spill cleanup workers

March 27, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today
March 27, 2007

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Jessie and Vicky Castidad along the shores of
Barangay Tando in Nueva Valencia Guimaras

NUEVA VALENCIA, GUIMARAS–Love and hope have blossomed amid the tragedy and devastation that struck Guimaras Island.

Two residents of a village worst hit by the Petron oil spill met and fell in love while working in the clean up of the contaminated coastline. They got married early this year.

Like other residents of Barangay Tando in Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras, Jessie Castidad and Vicky Gandesila woke up on August 12 last year with the stench of bunker fuel and the horror of thick, sticky sludge in their shores and doorsteps.

Their village was among the worst hit by the Petron oil spill after the tanker Solar I sank 13 miles southwest of Guimaras on August 11 last year.

The tanker was transporting 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel from the Petron depot in Bataan to Zamboanga when it encountered rough seas. At least 300,000 liters of bunker fuel are believed to have been spilled.

The oil spill, considered the worst in the country’s history, contaminated the island’s pristine beaches and rich marine resources. It also devastated the livelihood of the residents who were mostly dependent on fishing.

With fish catch almost down to nothing, hundreds of residents volunteered to work for the cleanup operations of the shoreline organized by Petron Corp. The residents were initially paid at P250 per day and at P300 daily starting September.

Jessie, 28, and Vicky, 22, were among the Tando residents who worked in the cleanup.

A fisherman since he was 10 years old, Jessie started working at the cleanup sites on Aug. 15 at the height of the oil spill until it was completed late last year. Vicky who started shell-gathering when she was 14 years old, started working sometime in September last year.

Though living in the same village, Jessie and Vicky never got a chance to be acquainted. They only met and were introduced shortly after Vicky started working in the cleanup operations.

They met in a house of one of their fellow workers, where the members of the cleanup teams would usually spend time bantering and relaxing after work.

“We were introduced but I did not give him a second thought then,” recalls Vicky.

These informal gatherings became the only time that they were together because they were assigned to separate cleanup sites in the village.

The two became friends, however, and soon after, their fellow workers started teasing them.

While Vicky first dismissed the teasing, she later admitted to herself that her blushes and Jessie’s meaningful glances were leading into something more than friendship.

“I was surprised that I started entertaining the possibility that we could be a couple because he was the silent type who did not really say much and much less show or express his emotion,” says Vicky.

Jessie who never had a girlfriend before, said he was shy at first to tell Vicky about his feelings but he later realized that he should act because he was even old enough to get married.

On Oct. 6 last year, on Vicky’s 22nd birthday, Jessie mustered the courage to profess his love. Five days later, the two officially became lovers.

“It was exciting but I was also afraid because although I had a ‘boyfriend’ years ago, this was one is serious,” says Vicky.

Vicky said she was drawn to Jessie’s good natured ways and his calming silence. “People look at him as a responsible person so it was not really difficult to fall in love with him.”

Jessie said he was attracted to her bubbly and girlish ways, the way she laughs and makes him feel happy when they are together.

The couple got married in a church ceremony at the barangay chapel on January 27 and are now staying at the house of Jessie’s family.

Despite the tragedy, the couple is hopeful that things will get better.

“We have lived because of the sea and we will continue to do so,” says Jessie who was forced to quit school when he was in Grade 2 because of poverty. Vicky only managed to reached Grade 6.

He has returned to fishing while she has gone back to shell-gathering.

Like the other villagers, the couple has welcomed the help that has poured into their village which can help them stand on their feet again.

The village is home to a P5-million mangrove nursery of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources funded by Mirant Philippines.

It is also a recipient of a livelihood and rehabilitation project of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives which aims to to help residents cope with the long term effects of the oil spill.

The project involved the donation of four motorized boats, fishnets and other gear for deep-sea fishing to four clusters of fishermen. In turn, the fishermen from the four clusters would divide the income from their catch.

This month, Jessie and Vicky were among the residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for a new four-room elementary school building donated by Petron Corp. The school building will replace the dilapidated classrooms being used by around 100 children.

The villagers are also comforted that the operation to remove the remaining oil inside the wreck had finally been started on March 11. The operation costing around $6 million is expected to last from 20 days to around a month.

There are still residents, church groups and officials of Nueva Valencia that are protesting the stopping of the clean-up operations saying that oil sludge are still present in some areas and can be found a few inches below sand. They are demanding that Petron continue its clean-up operations.

But Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga said the people are thankful that the operations have begun seven months after the oil spill devastated wide stretches of coast line and severely affected the people’s livelihood.

“Now we can focus on our rehabilitation efforts and programs,” says Gonzaga.

For Jessie and Vicky, this means that they can now move on, now as a couple, with the belief that something good can always come out from even the worst experience.

“If not for the oil spill I would not have met and found my wife,” says Jessie. “We both want to have children soon.”

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Coast Guard chief leads team to assess oil spill in Cebu

March 27, 2007

By Barbara Mae Dacanay, Bureau Chief
Gulf News, March 27, 2007

Manila: The head of the Philippine Coast Guard led a team yesterday that will assess the oil spill caused by a Japan-registered ship, a senior official said.

The ship caught fire while undergoing repairs in a shipyard in Cebu, central Philippines.

“Coast Guard commandant Vice-Admiral Damian Carlos was worried because of reports that fishermen in Toledo City have been complaining that oil slick has started to damage their fishing nets,” said Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo.

“The commandant does not want a repeat of the oil spill in Guimaras last year,” said Balilo.

A car transport ship of Tsuneishi Heavy Industries Cebu Inc caught fire at 10pm on Friday. The fire was extinguished by 3am on Saturday.

11 villages affected

Fishermen in Sto Nino village noticed the oil spill at 6am on Saturday.

“The ship might have leaked as a result of the fire, which started in vessel’s engine room,” said fire officer Ben Diotay. The spill spread out over a 150-metre radius, and has affected 11 coastal villages, said Haile Baron, village chief of Sto Nino village.

Oil spill has reached a beach near the city cemetery and a private resort in Matab-ang village in Toledo City, said Baron, adding that marine life and livelihood in these areas will be totally endangered if nothing is done about the oil spill.

“Dead fish have begun floating in our seas,” said Toledo City Mayor Arlene Zambo, adding, “The situation has worsened.”