Archive for April, 2007

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Oil spill claims frenzy a cover-up?

April 26, 2007

By Florence F. Hibionada
The News Today,
April 26, 2007

CHARGES and counter-charges continue to hound the latest stretch of distribution of oil spill compensation to thousands of victims in the Province of Guimaras.

With claimants now subject of scrutiny from camps of candidates vying the coveted seats here, The News Today (TNT) gathered that frustration and confusion has set in with the officials of the International Oil Petroleum Compensation (IOPC) Fund and both National and Regional Disaster Coordinating Councils.

In a report, TNT learned of the latest communication reportedly sent to Governor Rahman Nava and associates behind the multi-million disaster fund for the island-province’s rehabilitation.

Account the donations both in kind and cash, the governor was purportedly reminded anew amidst yet to be resolved and unaccounted assistance.

In fact, a deadline has been given to Nava even as more questions were raised on the discovery of private bank accounts that served as conduit of cash donations from former Guimaras residents who have now migrated abroad.

Radio reports mentioned at least four of said bank accounts now subject of further verification and validation which was said to have been long brought to the attention of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and counterparts in the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council.

Meantime, claims of thousands in the hardest hit Guimaras town await the ‘mercy’ of the IOPC and local officials with efforts linked to the Nava camp to suspend the check distribution.

“Kung may ginadudahan sila nga indi husto nga claim, nga-a kami iya nga madugay na nag-antus kag padayon nga naga-antus madalahig diri? Maluoy man si gob tani sa amon. Kung halos pa lang mahalin na lang kami sa Guimaras kay sobra na gid nga pamulitika ila. Asta san-o pa kami mahulat sang bulig nga ila man ginpasalig sa amon? (If they have questions on the veracity of the other claims, why let us who has long suffered and continue to suffer be dragged here? The governor should have pity on us. If only we could, we will leave Guimaras because of too much politics. Until when are we going to wait for the help that they have also promised us?)” a woman claimant in a radio interview lamented.

To recall, a donor’s forum was also held in Guimaras where IOPC, national and top regional government officials came and converged with key players from the international community to come up with a more efficient set-up to handle the donations. Plans were also drawn to guide the province on projects and programs best suited for the faster rehabilitation of Guimaras and the upliftment and re-empowerment of the locals especially those heavily hit by the oil spill.

Nava in a recent candidates’ forum in one broadcast network assured that all donations are duly listed and accounted as he tried to make a rundown of the assistance.

Nava also admitted that there were indeed donations made in his name but he had it transferred to the care of the provincial government.

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IOPC exec bewails political meddling in oil spill claims

April 26, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today
April 26, 2007

AFTER being ravaged by millions of liters of bunker fuel spilled on their shores, residents of Guimaras Island are now caught in the bitter wrangling of politicians over the payment of pollution compensation claims.

The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund has lamented how the claims for compensation for damages incurred from the Petron oil spill has been derailed by politics.

“…It is sad that the incident is being used by politicians this way. It is very sad that other people are exploiting the victims in various ways,” said IOPC deputy director and technical adviser Joe Nichols.

The IOPC is a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies losses resulting from oil spills.

While he did not point out who was responsible, Nichols pointed to the deluge of “spurious” claimants that have swamped the IOPC.

“Unfortunately, this whole incident got wrapped in the political situation and the Fund is being used as a political football match, which is very sad,” said Nichols in an interview.

The IOPC has received 102,600 claim forms for the second batch of claimants from Guimaras.

Nichols said they were shocked by the number of additional claimants, which added with the first batch of claimants, accounted to 80 percent of the island’s total population of 154,000. “It is simply impossible for that number of people to be directly affected by pollution.”

Nichols said they believe they have compensated almost all of those affected by the oil spill in the fisheries sector.

“We think that only few (remain to be paid)… maybe tens rather than hundreds and certainly not thousands,” he said.

Nichols said they do not want to be involved in the political squabble in Guimaras.

“We will not be drawn into it. The Fund is not a political organization. We are not interested in politics,” said Nichols.

Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava (Kampi) who is in third and last term is running against re-electionist Rep. Edgar Espinosa (Lakas CMD).

Both officials have blamed each other for the deluge of claimants.

Nava claimed it was Espinosa’s camp that spread the “misinformation” that anyone could file a claim resulting to the deluge of claimants.

“They have not gone through the established process that’s why there’s chaos,” said Nava.

He said the claims that were processed by Espinosa’s camp included the congressman’s driver, secretary and relatives.

When reached for comment, Espinosa did not deny that his relatives and employees were among the claimants.

“I did not know that they filed the claims. I have instructed them to withdraw it,” Espinosa said in a telephone interview.

Espinosa in turn accused Nava of including employees at the provincial capitol and those belonging to the governor’s political camp among the claimants.

Espinosa’s consultant Gerry Yucon cited the case of Vice Mayor Johhny Gajo of San Lorenzo town who was among the claimants.

But Nava said Gajo is a legitimate claimant because the vice mayor is a fishing boat owner.

Nava said they could not do anything with the number of claimants because it has already been submitted to the IOPC. “It’s up to them to verify it.”

Nichols said that before the payments were made, they had agreed that the claim forms will be processed and verified in four stages and will be signed by the barangay captain, local fisheries and agriculture officer, municipal mayor and the governor.

But he said they subsequently discovered that Espinosa was also adding his signature to the claim forms.

“The Fund is not in a position to turn away anybody’s claim. We had an original agreement that most of the claims will be verified by Governor Nava but we couldn’t stop anybody else from joining in the verification process,” said Nichols.

He said that while the IOPC normally would assess and verify the claims individually, they agreed to adopt the set-up with the help of the local government units because of the need to compensate the victims quickly.

“We knew that there were some risks that some people would be compensated (even if) they shouldn’t be compensated. We considered it an acceptable risk in the interest that people would get paid quickly,” said Nichols.

He said it would take years to verify the 102,600 claims. “But I believe most of them will be rejected because they are not admissible.”

He said the second batch of claim forms were incomplete, lacking information or were submitted by minors. The IOPC has a policy of not compensating minors because they were advised that it is illegal for minors to be involved in fishing.

“It is very, very sad that to some extent it is being abused in this way. I do not know who’s responsible for encouraging people this way to (file) claims,” said Nichols.

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Guimaras village head confirms fake claims

April 24, 2007

Francis Allan L. Angelo
2007-04-24
The Daily Guardian

A VILLAGE head of one of the oil spill hit villages in Guimaras confirmed that some claimants were not actual residents of their barangay, making their damage claims filed with the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds spurious.

Punong Barangay Ofelia Alonzo of Sabang, in the municipality of Sibunag said some claimants who declared that they are residents of the said village actually hail from other places not affected by the August 11, 2006 M/T Solar 1 oil spill.

In an interview with RMN-Iloilo anchorman Novi Guazo last night, Alonzo said Salvacion Balista, Elemar Nabos, Enrico Amoroso, Lory Madrigalejo, Oliver Espinosa and Leo Ian Espinosa are not from their barangay.

Balista, Nabos, Amoroso and Madrigalejo are believed to be employees of Guimaras Rep. Edgar Epinosa while Oliver and Leo Ian are his nephews.

Alonzo said the damage claims of the said persons did not pass through her office to verify if they are indeed Sabang residents.

The papers of the subject persons also did not get approval of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Council (Farmc).

Alonzo pointed to Sabang Kagawad Nenet Herrera as the one who signed the claims of Balista and others.

The village head said a certain Gerry Yucon and Ramil Lutero, believed to be supporters of Espinosa, helped process the alleged fake claims.

“Under the IOPC arrangement, the verification of the claims will pass through the barangay and Farmc, the municipal government and provincial government. But Espinosa’s group also made their own arrangement which is not allowed,” Alonzo said.

Alonzo’s statement backs the revelation of IOPC deputy director/technical adviser Joe Nichols that “something has gone seriously wrong in the verification process set up in the barangay, municipal and provincial levels.”

Espinosa was still unavailable for comment as of presstime.

The alleged irregularities in the oil spill claims have delayed the payment of the second batch of claims which total 102,600.

The IOPC last year paid roughly P118.5 million to 11,225 Guimaras residents who belong to the first batch.

In his letter to Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava, Nichols said that of the 102,600 pending claims, 37,000 have incomplete forms and 1,700 claimants were below 18 years old.

The IPOC was also alarmed by the total number of residents seeking compensation – 113,825 claimants – which accounts for 80 percent of Guimaras population.

“The Club and Fund find it hard to accept that such a high proportion of the population in Guimaras Island could have suffered pollution damage as defined in the 1992 Civil Liability Convention and the 1992 Fund Convention,” Nichols said.

Nichols said it would take considerable time to scrutinize the pending claims.

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Guimaras chief: Oil spill claims verification is IOPC’s job

April 24, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, April 24, 2007

Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava has washed his hands off the recent controversy involving the second batch of oil spill claims which the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) dubbed as “incredulous.”

When reached for comment by mobile phone yesterday, Nava said the process for submission and verification of claims has not been followed.

“It’s up to the IOPC to verify the claims because we could not control the number of claimants anymore,” said Nava.

He blamed the deluge of claimants to “misinformation”. He did not elaborate.

Earlier, the IOPC through its Deputy Director and Technical Adviser Joe Nichols wrote Governor Nava expressing alarm over the large number of claimants asking for compensation for damages brought by the massive oil spill in Guimaras.

The IOPC, a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies losses resulting from oil spills, finds the number of the second batch of claimants “incredulous.”

“The (Shipowners’ Club) and the Fund are somewhat alarmed at the number of claims forms included in the second batch, which total 102,600,” said Nichols in his letter to Nava dated March 30.

Nichols said that this number combined with around 11,400 claimants already paid in the first batch, comprised 80 percent of the total population of Guimaras Island (154,000).

“The Club and the Fund find it hard to accept that such a proportion of the population of Guimaras Island could have suffered pollution damage as defined in the 1992 Civil Liability Convention and 1992 Fund Convention,” said Nichols.

The IOPC also found irregularities in the claims.

Nichols said that while they have not completed the initial examination of all the 102,600 forms, they have identified nearly 37,000 incomplete forms. They also discovered that 1,700 forms were submitted by people under 18 years old.

“This suggests that something has gone seriously wrong in the verification process set up in the barangay, municipal and provincial levels,” said Nichols.

The IOPC last year paid around P118.5 million to more than 11,000 residents of Guimaras Island whose livelihood were affected after the Solar I sank on Aug. 12 spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel it was transporting for Petron from Bataan to Zamboanga. The victims each got around from P4,800 to P32,000.

Last month, it also paid P2,790,614 to 819 residents of coastal villages of Iloilo city who received checks ranging from P1,200 to P6,200.

The IOPC is currently paying around 11,000 claimants of Iloilo province amounting to a total of P57 million.

The IOPC will be processing and paying the second batch of claimants after the Iloilo claimants have been paid.

But Nichols said the payment of more Guimaras claimants will be delayed because of the number of claims submitted.

“As a result of the unexpected number of claims in the second batch, the Club and the Fund have no alternative but to scrutinize each claim form in detail and to take action to ensure that the claimants have legitimate claims that are admissible for compensation under the international conventions,” said Nichols.

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OIL SPILL SCAM 2

April 23, 2007

Irregularities delay release of claims

By Francis Allan L. Angelo
The Daily Guardian
2007-04-23

ASIDE from legitimate fisherfolk in Guimaras, employees and relatives of a politician in the island province got a windfall from the M/T Solar I oil spill August 2006.

And these anomalies have delayed the release of the second batch of damage claims by Guimaras folks, according to the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds.

Joe Nichols, IOPC deputy director/technical adviser, confirmed they are investigating the alleged irregularities before releasing the compensation of the remaining 102,600 claimants.

The IOPC is an international organization of states, petroleum companies and tanker owners providing compensation for oil pollution damage resulting from spills of persistent oil from tankers.

The organization is governed by the 1992 Civil Liability Convention and the 1992 Fund Convention.

Last year, the IOPC paid some US$2.4 million (roughly P118.5 million) to 11,225 Guimaras residents. The total amount set aside for the Guimaras residents alone was $330 million, according to the IOPCF website.

The fund also paid over P2 million to affected residents from Iloilo City coastal barangays.

After Holy Week, a total of 11,200 fishermen from the towns of Guimbal in southern Iloilo and Barotac Nuevo, Ajuy and Concepcion in northern Iloilo were compensated, with amounts ranging from P630 to P28,000.

Several Guimaras residents who have yet to receive their claims have been complaining of the delay despite assurances that they will be paid early this year.

In an email to RMN-Iloilo, a copy of which was furnished to The Daily Guardian, Nichols said they discovered anomalies in the documents of some claimants who already received their money and those who are still pending.

Nichols said that of the 102,600 pending claims, 37 have incomplete forms while 1,700 claimants were below 18 years old.

The IOPC was also alarmed by the number of claimants as the total figure – 113,825 applicants – accounts for 80 percent of Guimaras population.

Guimaras has 141,450 residents, according to the 2000 census of the National Statistics Office.

MAID AND DRIVER

The most glaring anomaly the IOPC discovered is that some of the claimants were not actual residents of towns severely affected by the oil spill.

Based on the National Disaster Coordinating Council, the town of Nueva Valencia was hit worst by the spill while Sibunag, San Lorenzo, Buevanista and Jordan were partially affected.

Adding twist to the anomaly is that some of the claimants who already received compensation were relatives and employees of Guimaras Rep. Edgar Espinosa.

The IOPC executive cited a certain Salvacion Balista who claimed to be a shell gatherer from Brgy. Sabang, Sibunag and received P4,488 in damages.

But when Balista’s documents were scrutinized, it was found out that Balista was actually from Brgy. Alaguisoc, Jordan. Her community tax certificate (cedula), which is one of the attachments to her claims, was issued in Iloilo City.

In a candidates’ debate over Bombo Radyo April 14, Espinosa admitted that Balista worked as secretary for his group Uswag Guimaras.

Another claimant with questionable credential was Elenar Nabos who received P4,488. Just like Balista, Nabos claimed that he is a resident of Brgy. Sabang but his actual address was at Brgy. Alaguisoc.

It was also learned that Nabos works in the district office of Espinosa.

Espinosa’s driver, Enrico Amoroso received P10,824 while his maid Lory Madregallo got P4,488.

Two of the Guimaras representative’s nephews also got a windfall from the oil spill tragedy.

Oliver Espinosa claimed P5,622 while Ian Oliver Espinosa, who claimed to be a fish vendor from Brgy. Rizal, Jordan, got a whopping P28,596.

Espinosa said he already told his relatives and employees to return the money.

Politics in tragedy

Apparently, politics played a role in the controversy as both Espinosa and Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava, who are both running for congressman, made separate assessments of the claimants.

The IOPC initially involved the barangay, municipal and provincial governments to process the claims.

But Espinosa reportedly made his own move to accommodate claimants identified with his group.

Nichols said something went wrong with the verification at the barangay, town and provincial levels because of the dual assessment setup.

The IOPC official said they have no choice but to scrutinize all claimants “which will take considerable amount of time.”

Nichols said they are studying how to investigate all the claims pending with their office.

Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava confirmed the IOPC’s discovery that 10 percent of the initial 11,300 claimants were spurious.

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Short films on Guimaras oil spill at UP Diliman

April 18, 2007

THE former UP Film Center (now UP Film Institute) mounts its own celebration for environmental awareness with a distinct program of films for the last two weekends of April. The main highlight will feature a marathon of screenings for Guimaras – Short Films from the Oil Spill on April 20 and April 21 at 7 p.m.

Featured are the works by independent filmmakers all tackling the effects of the oil spill on the environment and the lives of the people on Guimaras island.

Among the directors behind the acclaimed shorts are Drei Boquiren, Jeck Cogama, Khavn de la Cruz, Wilfred Allen Galila, Rox Lee, Raya Martin, Oscar Nava, Seymour Barros Sanchez, Ann Angala-Shy, Victor Louie Villanueva, JP Carpio, Emman de la Cruz, Kidlat de Guia, Milo Alto Paz, Kidlat Tahimik and Paolo Villaluna.

The much awaited UP Film Institute showcase of Guimaras – Short Films from the Oil Spill will be preceded on April 20 by I Dreamed of Africa from director Hugh Hudson of Chariots of Fire fame and on April 21 by the legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. (The News Today, April 18, 2007)

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Customs to help enforce rules reducing crude spill risks

April 17, 2007

By VG Cabuag
Reporter, BusinessMirror
April 17, 2007

THE Bureau of Customs will start monitoring vessels, particularly those required to comply with the government’s double hull policy which will be implemented next April.

Rogel Gatchalian, chief of the custom’s Run After Tax Smugglers program, told reporters Thursday that the agency has already written the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), asking the shipping regulator all needed information regarding the country’s ships.

Besides covering import entries and internal revenue declarations, documents include the deed of sale, agreements pertaining to vessel importation of consignees and/or importers.

The letter also sought preliminary computation of market value of the ships, Gatchalian said.

Unlike land transportation in which the customs bureau has a motor vehicle importation compliance unit, shipping vessels have no import windows.

He explained that since the government would not allow tankers to be used for transporting black oil on domestic waters, companies have no choice but to acquire new ships abroad.

Earlier, industry representatives said it converting old tankers to double-hull would be more expensive than buying new ones.

A double-hull, double-bottom tanker with a capacity of six thousand tons costs between $13.5 million to $15 million and is mostly constructed in other countries since local shipyards have no capacity.

Meanwhile, operators will be forced to comply with the new regulations since petroleum firms, such as Petron Corp. and Pilipinas Shell—which both have refineries in the country—want the program implemented by next year.

Petroleum companies belong to an international organization, which sets minimum standards for transporting oil.

Early this year, Marina has issued memorandum circular 2007 001, which was drafted to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s new standard for ocean-going vessels.

The said international guidelines classified tankers into three categories. The first covers oil tankers, which can carry more than 20,000 tons of crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil or lubricating oil and more than 30,000 tons of other oils. While the second category includes oil tankers which can carry 5,000 tons of oil, the third consists of carriers which can accommodate less than 5,000 tons of oil.

The first two categories, carrying heavy grade oil shall be double-hulled, while category three oil tankers carrying heavy grade oil should be fitted with both double-bottom tank and wing tank.

Sanctions and penalties for violators include immediate suspension of safety certificates of tankers for 60 days, delisting form the Philippine registry, revocation of the vessel’s authority to operate, and a penalty of P50,000 for each day of operation.