By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
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.