By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, Aug. 30, 2007
A nationwide militant alliance of fisherfolks has raised doubts on a government report showing that mangroves contaminated by last year’s massive oil spill in Guimaras are showing signs of resiliency and recovery.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said it wanted a “second opinion” on the state of the mangroves in Guimaras in reaction to a study of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that showed the natural recovery of mangroves.
“Everybody loves a welcome news. But we doubt the credibility of the DENR. It has performed its role to the hilt as no.1 apologist for Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp, owners of MT Solar 1. That’s why we want an honest-to-goodness second opinion,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in an e-mailed statement.
The assessment of the DENR in Western Visayas conducted in June18-29 showed “significant signs of recovery” of mangroves in areas affected by the oil spill. The report had said that new leaves have grown on affected mangrove trees and those previously monitored as having completelty defoliated.
The asssessment is the third conducted in mangrove areas that were contaminated after the Solar I sank on Aug. 11, 2006 and spilled around 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.
Scientists are closely monitoring the impact of the massive contamination of mangroves by bunker fuel in Guimaras because there has been no previous studies and researches on the long-term effect of oil spill on mangroves and the ecosystem in the country.
Hicap said an independent scientific study must be done to verify the June 18-29 study conducted by DENR. “The assessment made by the DENR could be motivated by interest groups which want to eliminate the ghosts of last year’s Guimaras oil spill tragedy.”
He said a casual inspection conducted by Pamalakaya and the Iloilo-based environmental group Save Our Lives, S.O.S-Panay and Guimaras last August 11 belied the DENR study.
“What we saw were mangrove areas under the state of catastrophe. We are not scientists, but we know how to distinguish what is real and what is fake,” said Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Albert Corpuz.
A rapid assessment study of an inter-agency team conducted shortly after the oil spill said around 647.98 hectares of mangroves in Guimaras were affected by the oil spill. Of this area, around 468 ha were heavily affected and 179.8 ha were considered slightly affected.
Scientists at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), which is spearheading the scientific researches on the impact of the oil spill, earlier said the rehabilitation and recovery of marine life contaminated by the oil slick could take 10 to 20 years.
Pamalakaya and Save Our Lives, S.O.S- Panay and Guimaras is also calling on legislators to pass a law creating a P10-billion rehabilitation fund for Guimaras that will be utilized over the next three years.
Hicap said the fund should come from giant oil firm Petron Corp. and not from taxpayers’ money. The groups are accusing Petron of being liable for the oil spill, an allegation repeatedly denied by the oil firm.
“The people of Guimaras want Petron Corp. to shoulder the costs of rehabilitation and that’s their collective sentiment and interest. Our groups are just echoing the voices from the grassroots,” the two groups said in a join statement.
They said that of the amount, P6 billion would be used for environmental and marine biodiversity rehabilitation while the rest would be spent for the economic rehabilitation.
Hicap noted the bulk of the government’s P863-million fund allocated by Congress last year and intended for the rehabilitation of the affected areas has not been released a year after the oil spill.