August 9, 2007

Oil spill victims ‘used’ and abandoned – priest

Panay News, Aug. 9, 1007

GUIMARAS – A parish priest accused the national government of neglecting the victims of last year’s oil spill here, and blamed it for the “low” compensation that the affected residents received.

Father Noe Lozada, parish priest of St. Michael Archangel in Jordan town, also blasted “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

Because of this, Guimarasnons have been unfairly branded as “liars, deceivers and opportunistic,” he lamented.

Lozada said the government has not introduced “lasting solutions.”

“Do not blame the victims of oil spill. Blame the system of governance that we have. Politicians will only visit our place during the election,” said Lozada, who had been in the island for 22 years as a priest.

Last month, the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) rejected almost all the second batch of compensation claimants. Of the 125,614 claimants for this batch, it only considered 134 claims.

“From the beginning, I know these people (from the IOPC) will never compensate (those affected with the) maximum amount. They haggled to the lowest bargain until we just collapse in exasperation,” Lozada stressed.

“Only if the IOPC had been strict during the approval of the first batch of claimants, this will never happen. Why are they being strict now?” Lozada wondered.

A total of 11,227 claims (first batch) have been paid by the IOPC reaching P118,852,193.
According to Guimaras Gov. Felipe Hilan-Nava, the 134 claims are again being screened for final approval by the IOPC.

IOPC made some startling discoveries, among these were the incomplete information on the claim registration or insufficient signatures verifying that the claimants are bona fide fisherfolks; some claimants already received compensation but applied again; others were underaged; and several more were not even coastal residents but inland villagers.

The IOPC tapped fisheries experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and the London Offshore Consultants to help assess the claims of those seeking compensation.

But for Lozada, “it is wrong that only the fisherolks are compensated. Once fishing is affected, all the people of Guimaras are affected. The whole island must be compensated. Everyone of us must be compensated.”

“The government could have helped the people to fight for their right to get maximum benefits and maximum compensation,” said Lozada during a multi-sectoral dialogue on the effects of the oil spill at Shirven’s Hotel in Jordan town on Tuesday.

Lozada said he was saddened by “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

“We were treated by these multinationals to a certain place and slaughtered. They know our leaders will fight against each other and confuse the people,” Lozada said, referring to the filing of the second batch of claimants which was done during the election period.

Gov. Nava confirmed that some unscrupulous politicians used the claims to further their own agenda at the expense of the unsuspecting residents using it as “part of their campaign slogan… they misguided the people into making money the easy way.”

Lozada took to task the government. “The President, the Senate, and the battery of lawyers in Congress should have helped us. (But) there was none … we were just given small things,’ he said.

He said the government only offered pallative solutions to the oil spill catastrophe that displaced thousands of fisherfolks who lost their livelihood.


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