Archive for June, 2007

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Oil spill victims decry allegations of politics in claims

June 29, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
06/28/2007

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Oil spill damage claimants in Miag-ao town denied that irregularities marred the filing and payment claims of residents affected by the Petron oil spill off Guimaras Island in August 2006.

They denounced Iloilo Representative Janette Garin for making these allegations.

In a manifesto passed on June 12, members of the Miag-ao Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (MFARMC) denied that fraudulent claims were made without verification aside from the recommendation of politicians.

Around 523 beneficiaries in Miag-ao received around P1.7 million in compensation for damages incurred from the oil spill.

The claimants said they “underwent rigid screening” by the office of the municipal agriculturist and submitted sufficient documents and requirements proving they were oil spill victims.

They pointed out that the claims were processed before the election period and the signing of Miag-ao Mayor Gerardo Flores was only “incidental.”

The claimants said Garin was the one who made the compensation process “a political gimmick.”

Garin’s statements were contained in an e-mail she sent to Hugh Bayley, a member of the United Kingdom House of Commons.

She named Flores, whom she defeated in the congressional race in the May 14 elections, outgoing Dumangas Mayor Rolando Distura and then provincial board member Niel Tupas Jr. as among the politicians who were recommending the claimants.

Garin also accused the personnel of the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund of allowing the alleged scam to happen because of “wanton laziness” in verifying the claims and of tolerating “barbaric political gimmickry.”

IOPC director Willem Oosterveen earlier disputed Garin’s allegations.

The IOPC is an inter-governmental organization which provides compensation to oil spill victims.

The claimants said, in their manifesto, that Garin’s actions “jeopardized the chances for claims of some 2,000 additional victims.” They also asked Garin for a dialogue in the presence of members of the media.

Garin said she was willing to dialogue with the Miag-ao claimants but she also stood by her allegations.

She maintained that the compensation claims were used for political purposes, from the identification of recipients to the distribution of payments.

Garin said the processing and payments of claimants during the election period went against the agreement reached in a meeting of Iloilo representatives, Petron officials and Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She said they agreed that the payments for Iloilo claimants would be made after the elections to avoid it being influenced by partisan politics.

Only the claimants from Miag-ao and Oton towns received compensation because the other coastal towns in the First District moved back their filing of claims to after the elections, said Garin.

She said the claimants in Oton were given priority being the worst affected in the district.

Garin said she issued the statement because the country’s reputation was at stake in the receipt of assistance from foreign agencies.

“I came out in the open because we need to be transparent,” Garin said in a telephone interview.

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Anti-oil pollution bill enacted into law

June 17, 2007

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has signed into law Republic Act (RA) 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act which penalizes oil pollution damage and seeks to immediately compensate those who suffer from it.

Arroyo signed the measure on June 2, 2007, before she left for Rome, Portugal, and China. The bill was supposed to lapse into law on June 4.

The new law seeks to implement the provisions of the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1992 International Convention on the establishment of an international fund for compensation for oil pollution damage. It was an offshoot of the oil spill that hit Guimaras island last year due the sinking of the motor tanker Solar 1 ferry.

RA 9483 provides that the ship owner shall be liable for the pollution damage, including the expenses in sea and on-shore clean-up, the loss of earnings suffered by owners or users of the contaminated property and those who rely on it, the damage to human health and loss of life, and the environmental damage and cost of restoration.

However, the owner of the vessel will not be held liable if the incident resulted from war, hostilities, rebellion, or natural phenomenon; if it was caused intentionally by a third party; and if it was caused by negligence of government, enforcement agencies, or if caused intentionally by those who suffered the damage.

The law requires a ship owner to constitute a fund representing the limit of his liability with the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) to cover incidents causing pollution damage. Any claim for compensation shall be brought directly to the Regional Trial Court (RTC).

All shop owners shall be required annually by the Marina to maintain insurance or other financial security for pollution damage. A certificate attesting that insurance or any other financial security shall be issued to each ship carrying more than 2,000 tons of oil in bulk.

Ships carrying more than 2,000 tons of oil in bulk cargo shall not be allowed entry into Philippine territory or its exclusive economic zone without a certificate of insurance or financial security for pollution damage.

Any person who has received more than 150,000 tons of contributing oil in a calendar in all ports or terminal installations in the Philippines by sea shall pay contributions to the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC).

Under the new law, those who fail to institute or maintain insurance or other financial security shall pay P100,000 to P15 million depending on the ship’s tonnage.

The owner and master of a ship who operate a vessel without maintaining a certificate of insurance shall pay P500,000 on the first violation, P1 million on the second, and P1.5 million on the third.

Any person who fails to contribute to the IOPC Fund shall pay P3 million on the first violation, P4 million on the second, and P5 million on the third.

Failure to submit a report of carrying crude or fuel oil will pay P500,000 on the first violation, P1 million on the second violation, and P1.5 million on the third.

Those who obstruct the entry of authorized officials aboard any ship shall be pay a fine of not more than P100,000. Any ship apprehended for violating the Oil
Pollution Compensation Act shall be detained.

The fines will increase by at least 10 percent every three years to compensate for inflation and maintain the deterrent function of the fines.

An Oil Pollution Management Fund will be established and administered by the Marina. It will come from contributions of owners and operators of tankers and barges hauling oil and petroleum products in Philippine waters and from fines imposed by the law.

The fund shall be used for the immediate containment, removal and clean-up operations in oil pollution cases and for research, enforcement and monitoring activities of concerned agencies. (JMR/Sunnex, Sunstar Manila, June 16, 2007)

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GMA: Guimaras recovery fast – press release

June 17, 2007

Iloilo City (13 June) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed satisfaction over the rehabilitation efforts initiated for the recovery of the once oil-spill devastated province of Guimaras.

President Arroyo made this assessment as she listened to the report of Petron CEO Nicasio Alcantara on the activities undertaken in Guimaras to mitigate the effects of oil spill to human and marine life.

Alcantara reported on the cash for work program which resulted to the cleaning up of the oil-spill affected shorelines in less than four months. He said that the scientific community from leading institutions have provided needed inputs for ecological recovery.

He was pleased to report to the President that according to the UPV, the affected mangrove areas are slowly recovering, and based on a study by Siliman University ’s Dr. Angel Alcala, there is no visual evidence of coral damage.

The Petron CEO also reported of the oil retrieval operations conducted by Sonsub, and that the IOPC has ensured that those affected by the oil spill are reasonably compensated.

“About a hundred million pesos has been given to claimants,” he said as he pointed out that Petron has continuing program to ensure the safe transport of fuels.

Another long term rehabilitation program of Petron was materialized with the construction of Library Hub in Jordan, with President Arroyo leading the inauguration yesterday.

The Petron Library hub received an initial 36, 000 books and this will be made available to teachers and administrators for schools within the designated area. Each school is allowed to borrow the book bundles for a period of 30 days.

President Arroyo asked Petron to install computer terminal in each of the 17 high schools, and according to her Petron readily said yes. She stressed that one of her ten-point agenda is education for all where high schools would have computer linkage before her term ends in 2010.

During the occasion, the President was also presented with the MOA signed between Petron and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center to establish a Mariculture livelihood model farm within the Seafdec facilities in Nueva Valencia. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also turned over the P3 million seed capital to four Self-Employment Assistance Kabuhayan Associations for seaweed farming. (Phil. Information Agency)

Petron assures safety of fuel transport in Guimaras – press release

Iloilo City (14 June) — With lessons already learnt from the devastation brought by the Solar! oil spill incident to the province of Guimaras, Petron assured President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the public that they have instituted measures to ensure the safe transport of their fuels.

This assurance was made by Petron CEO Nicasio Alcantara to President Arroyo during the inauguration of the Petron Library Hub, and turn over of multi-million peso-livelihood assistance for the oil spill affected people of Guimaras.

It may be recalled that MT Solar ! sank off the Guimaras Strait in August 11, 2006. The tanker spilled some two million liters of oil and affected 11 coastal barangays in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras.

Alcantara said that they have launched in 2004 a shipping alliance project, a continuing program to ensure the safe transport of fuels.

Towards this end, Alcantara said “we launched the building of nine new double-hull and double bottom vessels by 2008, ahead of international regulations”.

He said that the first vessel was inaugurated in 2005, followed by another in 2006, and the third vessel which is considered the largest and most modern oil-tanker in the Philippines.

He further told the Preisdent that they have joined the East Asia Response Limited, the largest oil spill response organization in the world.

“This enhances our capability, and that includes the government, to deal with very large oil spills giving us access to rapid response services,” the Petron CEO concluded.
(Phil. Information Agency)

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PGMA turns over of P12-M worth of projects in Guimaras

June 17, 2007

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited Guimaras Wednesday to turn over projects expected to spur the development of the province and hasten its recovery after the 2006 Solar I oil spill incident.

Guimaras will receive more or less P12-million worth of projects ranging from a library hub, classrooms and livelihood programs.

President Arroyo inaugurated the P7-million library hub constructed by Petron Corporation containing some 36,000 books donated by the San Francisco Public Library, Saudi Aramco, Bato Balani Foundation, and other donors.

Likewise, Petron unveiled its P1.5 million four-classroom building in Tando, simultaneous with the turn over activity held in San Miguel, Guimaras.

Four rersidents’ associations that were affected by the spill received initial seed capital to the tune of P525,000 out of the P3-million financial assistance that was given by Petron via the Self-Employment Assistance Kaunlaran (SEA-K-) program through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

President Arroyo likewise witnessed the signing of an agreement between the South East Asian Fisheries Development Center Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC-AQD) for the establishment of a mariculture project in Igang, Nueva Valencia, the worst hit municipality during the tragic oil spill.

Petron shelled out another P3-million as financial support to the mariculture project. (PNA, June 14, 2007)

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Arroyo set to sign Bill calling for oil spill funds

June 12, 2007

By Barbara Mae Dacanay, Bureau Chief
Gulfnews, June 11, 2007

Manila: President Gloria Arroyo has promised to sign a Bill that calls for the setting aside of funds to handle the costs of oil spills, following the country’s two worst incidents in 2005 and 2006, a senior official told Gulf News yesterday.

“The president supports the Bill that calls for the establishment of the Oil Management Fund, even if she failed to sign it earlier,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

“The proposed Oil Pollution Compensation Act was crafted last year, but she could not act on it because she was on foreign trips most of the time,” Ermita said, adding Arroyo has promised not to veto the Bill.

“She thinks the Bill must become law. It is a very important measure especially after we suffered two of our worst ever oil spills in 2005 and 2006, which affected Guimaras and Semirara islands respectively,” Ermita added.

Arroyo has been criticised by several sectors for having not signed the Bill already. The proposed creation of the Oil Pollution Management Fund was included in the Bill after an oil spill off Guimaras Island last year.

Cost

A barge of the government-run National Power Corporation spilled more than 300,000 litres of oil off Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique in December 2005, damaging 113 hectares of mangrove and 40 kilometre of coastline.

The clean-up cost was estimated at 80 million pesos (Dh6.2 million)

An oil tanker, chartered by Petron Corporation, then spilled 1.8 million litres of bunker fuel off Guimaras Island in August 2006.

The worst oil spill in the country’s history damaged 450 hectares (1,112 acres) of mangroves, 116 hectares (287 acres) of seaweed plantations, 15.8 square kilometres of coral reef habitat, and about 220 kilometres of coastline.

The clean up cost was 250 million pesos (Dh19.6 million).

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P4-M fund to boost Guimaras, Iloilo mangrove rehab – press release

June 12, 2007

Iloilo City (7 June) – Rehabilitation of oil spill-affected mangrove areas in Guimaras and Iloilo will be given another boost with the turning over of P4 million by Mirant Philippines to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The announcement was made yesterday by DENR VI representative during the Solar Oil Spill (SOS) press briefing called for by Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas ,Rafael Coscolluela who also heads the Task Force SOS.

DENR press report said that the oil spill from MT Solar I, caused damaged to 687.48 hectares of mangrove areas, 20nhectares of seagrasses, 100 hectares of coral reefs, 994 hectares of fishponds, 107 hectares of seaweeds farms, and 234.84 kilometers of coastline. It also displaced 155,00 people in three coastal towns of Guimaras and two towns of Iloilo.

During the press briefing, PA Coscolluela appealed to the media to help inform the public of the reported fake letter bearing the forged signature of Mr. Joe Nichols of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund or IOPC, informing local officials of Guimaras regarding that the second batch of claimants will be paid in June.

“This is an unfortunate incident which could become a source of embarrassment for the country,” Coscolluela said.

He stressed that the IOPC is still evaluating the compensation claims and they will make proper announcement for the release of payments. (Phil. Information Agency)

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IOPC exec laments solon’s allegation that politics tainted payment of oil spill claims

June 8, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, June 8, 2007

The head of the inter-governmental organization which provides compensation to oil spill victims has lamented allegations that their organization allowed itself to be used by politicians during the election period in the payment of claims for victims of the oil spill.

International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund Director Willem Oosterveen said it was unfortunate the final stages of the payment of the claims had become the “object of political canvassing” in connection with May 14 elections.

Oosterveen made the statement in a letter dated May 9 to Hugh Bayley, a member of the United Kingdom House of Commons.

Bayley had called the the IOPC’s attention on the alleged irregularities after he received an e-mail from Iloilo first district Rep. Janette Garin.

In her e-mail, a copy of which was furnished to the Philippine government with Oosterveen’s letter, Garin alleged that fraudulent claims were made which had no verification aside from the recommendation of politicians. She identified the politicians as Miag-ao town Mayor Gerardo Flores, whom Garin defeated in last month’s elections, Dumangas Mayor Rolando Distura and provincial board member Niel Tupas Jr.

She also accused IOPC personnel of allowing the alleged scam to happen because of “wanton laziness” in verifying the claims and of tolerating “barbaric political gimmickry”.

Oosterveen refuted Garin’s allegations.

“Some of my colleagues in the Fund Secretariat have worked tirelessly to have these claims assessed and to make the payments as adequately and quickly as possible, even giving up their Christmas holidays in order to alleviate the hardship on those most seriously affected,” he said in his letter.

He said they have no facts to substantiate the allegations but would not hesitate to stop or suspend the payments if they have proof.

The IOPC official defended the process they have adopted in the processing and verification of claims of oil spill victims which requires the claimants to submit a duly filled up claim form signed by five officials (barangay captain, local fisheries officer, municipal mayor, governor or congressman).

“It’s the Fund’s view that process adopted has worked extremely well, although it was recognized at the outset that a small number of people who were not bonafide fisherfolk might get through the system,” said Osterveen.

He said they have adopted “flexible approach” different from the one they used in other oil spill incidents because a very large number of fisherfolks who operate on subsistence or semi-commercial basis could not provide documentary evidence to prove their losses.

He admitted that the process was “not perfect but (was) the most appropriate way of ensuring that compensation was paid to bonafide fisherfolk.”

The News Today sought Garin for comment but she is out of the country for a conference.

Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the regional Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, said these controversies and allegations of irregularities surrounding the compensation of victims of the oil spill could become an international embarrassment.

He said Philippine officials are concerned that these issues will be tackled during the international conference of the IOPC Fund set on June 12-16 in Montreal, Canada.

Coscolluela said they are also concerned with the impact of the circulation of the fake letter sent to Guimaras officials announcing that the second batch of claimants in Guimaras will be paid starting this month.

“This prank is an unfortunate incident. We do not know who is crazy enough to do this,” said Coscolluela.

IOPC officials had denied sending the letter saying that they have not finished verifying the more than 100,000 claims submitted.

Coscolluela said they would look deeper into the incident but expressed doubt that they would identify those responsible as it is impossible to trace the source. The letters were mailed to barangay officials from the post office in Iloilo City.

He said the prank could be part of an attempt to embarrass IOPC officials who had earlier publicly blamed the deluge of claimants in Guimaras to the political intramurals between rival candidates in Guimaras.