Archive for August, 2007

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Group doubts DENR report on mangrove recovery in Guimaras

August 30, 2007

fisherman_tn.jpg
A fisherman in Guimaras rows his boat while looking for an area where to catch fish. (Photo by A.Chris Fernandez)

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.

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Guimaras mangroves recovering — DENR

August 27, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, Aug. 27, 2007

MANGROVES heavily contaminated by last year’s massive oil spill in Guimaras are showing signs of resiliency and natural recovery, according to a study of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The study conducted by a team from the DENR Western Visayas office on June 18-29 showed “significant signs of recovery” including regeneration of mangroves in areas where mortality of mangroves were previously observed.

“Even in severely contaminated sites, regeneration of different species were observed to be growing robustly and in numbers,” according to the report. The assessment is the third conducted in affected mangrove areas after the Solar I sank on Aug. 11, 2006 and spilled around 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.

New leaves have grown on trees which were previously recorded as having completed defoliated. Prominent growth of lenticels were also observed in heavily contaminated plant parts, according to the report. The lenticels serve as the breathing organ of the mangroves, which when functioning normally, can enhance the recovery process.

The team also observed other signs of natural recovery including the presence of fauna such as shells and worms in the contaminated sites.

The DENR team, however, recommended further physical clean-up of oil-coated debris in three sites to enhance the natural flushing of oil from the mangroves through wave action. The sites include Sitio Dungcaan in Barangay Lucmayan; Sitio Punta Araguy in Barangay Panobolon and Sitio Tamsik in San Antonio, all in Nueva Valencia town.

The team also recommended rehabilitation measures in 21 monitored sites including planting in 152.5 hectares and the establishment of three central and six subsidiary mangrove nurseries.

A perioding monitoring (once every quarter) of the recovery should also be conducted in the 13 severely contaminated sites and assess the status of mangroves, according to the report.

The oil sludge contaminated mangroves in at least 18 barangays in the towns of Nueva Valencia (11), Sibunag (6) and San Lorenzo (1), according to a DENR assessment conducted shortlty after the oil spill.

Based on the assessment conducted two weeks after the oil spill, 13 sites were heavily contaminated and another considered slightly contaminated.

Four sites, all in Nueva Valencia, showed significant deaths of mangroves with at least 509 dead mangrove trees.

The trees that were contaminated showed signs of damage including formation of callus on the trunks and debarking of mature mangrove trees. In some trees, an oily substance was observed leaking out from the inner bark.

Rhodora Capulso, head of the DENR regional public affairs office said the death of mangroves is caused by the oil blocking the lenticels of mangroves.

She denied reports that oil dispersants caused the death of mangroves in Sitio Lucmayan in Barangay Lapaz in Nueva Valencia.

“The dispersants were used in the offshore clean-up and there is a “no-touch” policy adopted by the scientific community in the rehabilitation of mangroves,” Capulso said in a telephone interview.

She said high incidence of mangrove mortality like in Lucmayan were usually concentrated in areas where the oil sludge could not be easily flushed by the sea water.

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Arroyo abolishes Task Force SOS

August 25, 2007

BY CARLA GOMEZ
Visayan Daily Star, Aug. 23, 2007

THE appointment of Rafael Coscolluela, Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas, as Sugar Regulatory Administrator effective September 1 will prevent his continued involvement in Guimaras oil spill-related activities, he said yesterday.

Coscolluela takes over from James Ledesma, who has long been wanting to give up his post as SRA chief.

In line with the need to streamline procedures related to the Guimaras rehab program, the President has issued Administrative Order 191 that abolishes Task Force Solar I Oil Spill and authorizes the National Disaster Coordinating Council, with the Office of Civil Defense 6 as secretariat, to review and approve proposals and to oversee the utilization of calamity funds for Guimaras’ rehabilitation, Coscolluela said.

Gov. Joseph Marañon said he hopes Coscolluela, as SRA head, will be able to maintain sugar prices at present levels. Sugar is currently selling above P1,000 per 50 kilobag.*CPG

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BFAR to assess Guimaras fishery resources

August 17, 2007

David Israel Sinay
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
Aug. 14, 2007

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will assess the fishery resources of Guimaras following reports of low fish catch in the island province’s municipal waters, the agency’s Western Visayas director said recently.

Drusila Esther Ong-Bayate said fisherfolk associations in Nueva Valencia, San Lorenzo and Sibunag, which had been affected by the oil spill a year ago, informed them of the dwindling fish catch.

“We received a lot of reports of the low fish catch in Guimaras. In order to gauge and verify the information, the BFAR will conduct a municipal fisheries assessment,” said Ong-Bayate in a recent interview.

(For the rest of the story, pls. click BFAR assessment.)

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Sickness hounds Guimaras residents

August 17, 2007

By Hazel P. Villa and David Israel Sinay
Inquirer, Aug. 13, 2007

NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras—A year after the country’s worst oil spill, cases of asthma, diarrhea, high blood pressure and other ailments continue to hound residents of Nueva Valencia’s coastal villages.

Some are new, undocumented cases, such as those of six young children and six oil spill cleanup workers who said their asthma attacks and difficulty with breathing started two to three months ago.

The villagers, a health worker, and a village chief also lamented the lack of health monitoring and government attention as they relied on meager medicines and self-medication.

Romeo Basco, 25, who had been hired by Petron to do cleanup work on Aug. 19 to Oct. 21 last year at P300 a day, told the Inquirer on Aug. 6 that he had two asthma attacks, the latest of which was on the first week of this month.

Before the oil spill, Basco said he would get asthma attacks only if he gets allergic reactions to salty food and the anti-acid medication Maalox.

“I can’t breathe well. I just drink water and use the nebulizer the barangay health office gave me,” said Basco whose house faces the beach of Sitio Sumirib, Barangay Lapaz here.

Click Sick in Guimaras for the rest of the story.)

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Psycho-social rehab pushed in Guimaras

August 17, 2007

BY NESTOR BURGOS JR.
Visayan Daily Star, Aug. 15, 2007

ILOILO CITY — A research team from a Toronto-based law school has called for a long-term rehabilitation plan in mental and pyschological health for residents affected by the massive oil spill that ravaged Guimaras Island last year, and other disasters.

The three-member team, composed of students of the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, pointed out that there is lack of long-term rehabilitation plans in mental and psycho-social health for the affected residents. The team called for a comprehensive psycho-social rehabilitation program for victims of the oil spill and similar disasters that would include the automatic evaluation of psycho-social needs after the disaster, training of workers on stress management, providing on-site pyscho-social support units and designation of an institute to manage the program.

The recommendation is among several drawn up by the group after conducting a three-month research aimed at improving the emergency response process based on the experience dealing with the August 11, 2006 oil spill in Guimaras.

The research, done in partnership with the Canadian Urban Institute, was conducted with interviews with stakeholders and gathering of data on institutional competency and operational efficiency of the various agencies involved in the response and rehabilitation efforts.

The research also called for major reforms including legislation in the country’s disaster management laws, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

A preliminary study conducted on the pyscho-social impact of oil spill by doctors belonging to environmental group We Heal and the Iloilo Medical Society last year said residents in Sibunag town and in Barangay Lapaz in Nueva Valecia, among the hardest hit areas by the oil spill, showed common symptoms resulting from the disaster.

The most common include trouble thinking clearly, poor sleep, feeling tired all the time, poor appetite, tense or worried and indecisiveness. The emotional symptoms include feeling unhappy, difficulty in enjoying work and loss of interest in activities.

A separate study conducted by sociologist Artchil Fernandez of the Central Philippine University Research Center showed that in areas affected by the oil spill, there was a significant decrease of community cooperation.

Fernandez said in his research that conflicts related to clean up projects on who got hired by Petron Corp. in the cleanup operations strained relationships in the community. Conflicts also arouse over the distribution and rationing of relief packages and goods

There was also a significant increase of family separation because family members transferred to evacuation centers or were forced to work in the cleanup or in other provinces.

The doctors and psychologists recommended that formal studies should be conducted not only on victims but on caregivers or health workers. They also recommended the development of a mental health program in primary health care in order to address the mental health needs of the community.

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Task Force Solar Oil Spill remains committed to task – press release

August 17, 2007

Guimaras (13 August) — One year after the MV Solar I oil spill tragedy, Task Force Solar Oil Spill (TF SOS) Incident Commander Presidential Assistant Rafael “Lito” Coscolluela said TF members are still there together.

Sec. Coscolluela said after a year things are not “quite normal” for there are still signs of adverse effects of the oil spill on the lives of the people of Guimaras. He said they have still more things to do, more problems to address.

“We’ll be here for the long haul, do what needs to be done, know what we have to do and keep doing them. We’ll stay until Guimaras recovers,” Coscolluela said.

He told those who were present during the program commemorating the Oil Spill tragedy, that he had been holding weekly meetings with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), to follow-up releases of the P867 million supplemental fund for the rehabilitation of Guimaras and other affected areas.

So far, he said, only about 25% have been released and it took President Gloria Arroyo’s visit in the province for P50 million to be immediately earmarked for the rehabilitation, where 50% of it had been already released.

He added that they were forced to review and revise some of the proposed plans for rehabilitation because of the instruction of President Arroyo that the calamity funds released as supplemental budget under RA 9358 should be used judiciously by concerned agencies and Local Government Units.

Coscolluela said the President felt there were some items in the proposals which were not necessary, which included some administrative and Information, Education and Communication concerns, which were removed.

By and large, Coscolluela saw their job as a Task Force as dynamic and challenging, with the media who kept them alert on issues and kept information flowing, the partners, who despite, controversies and disagreements just kept on working and doing what they were supposed to do.

He saw the experience as something that should guide the agencies and other sectors to review their disaster preparedness plans and make the vulnerable areas better prepared for any calamity.

He also felt the Philippines, with the Guimaras oil spill experience, can share to the rest of the world what unity and cooperation is in a developing country, and what social responsibility is, in the light of the tragedy. (Phil. Information Agency)