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Groups score delay in release of Guimaras rehab funds

August 13, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, Aug, 13, 2007

A nationwide organization of fisherfolks and an environmental group have scored the delay in the release of the bulk of rehabilitation funds intended for communities and areas affected by last year’s massive oil spill on Guimaras Island.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the Iloilo-based Save Our Lives, S.O.S!- Panay and Guimaras coalition said in a joint statement that the delay is “scandalous amid the suffering of thousands of residents reeling from the impact of the oil spill.”

The groups issued a statement after hearing the sentiments of residents in a forum in Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras on Saturday, a year after the M/T Solar I sank 13.5 miles southwest of the island and spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel.

“The May 14, 2007 elections is over. The government has ran out of reasons to postpone the release of funds,” said Pamalakaya spokesperson Gerry Corpuz.

Officials had said the delay in the release of the bulk of the P863-million fund intended for rehabilitation programs and livelihood projects have been held in abeyance because of the election period.

But until now, only around P200 million has been released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) because of bureaucratic procedures.

The delay had prompted outgoing Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, to ask President Macapagal-Arroyo to issue an administrative order that would fast track the release of the remaining fund.

The P863-million has been allocated to the Department of Agriculture (P100 million), Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (P130 million), Department of Health (P22 million), DSWD (P247 million), local government units (P250 million), UP-Visayas (P50 million), and other agencies (P64 million).

Corpuz said the funds “must be released now and let the people, in total transparency, see how the government would spend this amount for genuine and comprehensive rehabilitation.”

Guimaras officials have also been repeatedly calling for the release of the fund so that the programs and projects could take off.

The two groups also called on the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) to pay the remaining victims of the oil spill for the damages they suffered.

The said the IOPCF, a London-based intergovernmental agency that indemnifies oil spill victims, should not reject the bulk of the second batch of claimants in Guimaras.

“The IOPCF is not in the position to set standards and parameters in identifying the rightful claimants.

That’s ridiculous. It is the people of Guimaras and other affected communities should define and declare who are the rightful claimants with the support of recognized people’s organizations, non-government organizations and respected government officials,” said Corpuz.

The IOPCF earlier said it would likely reject most of around 100,000 claimants because the submitted claim forms were incomplete or the claimants were below 18 years old. It had also doubted if most of the claimants were bonafide fisherfolks who were affected by the oil spill.

The agency had earlier lamented the deluge of claimants especially during the election period, saying it doubted that 80 percent of the island’s population could have suffered economic losses from the oil spill.

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