April 23, 2007

Irregularities delay release of claims

By Francis Allan L. Angelo
The Daily Guardian

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.


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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