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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.

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