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Charges filed vs. Solar 1 owners, says DOJ chief

July 27, 2007

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

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has denied the statement of the head of a regional inter-agency task force on the Petron oil spill that it failed to file the appropriate charges against those responsible for the country’s worst oil spill.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. lashed at Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, for saying that no one has been charged for the oil spill.

“Mr. Coscolluela is very wrong. He might end up eating his words,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview.

Gonzalez pointed out that criminal charges were filed early this year against owners of the M/T Solar which sank 13.5 miles off Guimaras on August 11, 2006.

The 998-gross-ton tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. (SDMC) was contracted by the giant oil firm Petron to ship fuel to Western Mindanao Power Corp. in Zamboanga del Sur.

The tanker was carrying 13,000 barrels or 2 million liters of bunker fuel in the vessel’s 10 tanks when it sank amid rough seas.

DOJ Undersecretary Fidel Esconde, a member of the DOJ panel that investigated the oil spill, said it filed in March this year charges against SDMC officials for violating the Anti-Dummy Law (Commonwealth Act No. 108 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 715).

Among those charged were before the Manila Regional Trial Court were Japanese nationals Hiroyasu Yamaguchi, Mototsugu Yamaguchi, Tomoki Tsubomoto and Hiromi Irishika, and Filipinos Clemente Cancio, Roberto Mena, Gregorio Flores and Angelita Buenaventura.

The respondents were charged after an investigation of the five-member DOJ panel found the Japanese officials to be illegally occupying key positions in the corporation. The Japanese incorporators also largely controlled the company and were intervening in its management, operation, administration and control, according the results of the DOJ investigation.

Esconde said Guimaras officials had also filed criminal charges against Petron and SDMC officials for violating environmental laws.

But he pointed out that the charges and the subsequent appeal of the petitioners were dismissed by the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office.

Guimaras provincial prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin had dismissed the complaint against Petron and SDMC officials for violating Republic Act No. 9275 (Clean Water Act of 2004), RA 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) and RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) for lack of evidence.

Calmorin had said in his resolution that the sinking of the tanker and the oil spill were unintentional acts.

“We are waiting for the petitioners to appeal the resolution of the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office before we can act on it,” said Esconde in a telephone interview.

Coscolluela said he was unaware that charges have been filed against anyone in relation to the oil spill because the DOJ failed to report it in meetings of the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

“If a case has indeed been filed, then we are happy to hear that,” Coscolluela said in a telephone interview.

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