Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer, Feb. 19, 2007
NUEVA VALENCIA, GUIMARAS – The large tents are gone and the plaza is clear of the cramped makeshift quarters set up six months ago.
The residents of Barangay Tando are slowly regaining their lives and hopes after the massive oil spill that hit their shores last year.
Tando was among the villages badly contaminated by the oil sludge when the MT Solar I sank around 15 miles southwest of Guimaras Island on Aug. 11, 2006 spilling about 300,000 liters of bunker fuel on the waters and coastline.
At the height of the contamination, the government evacuated about 100 residents for health reasons. The fishermen had to stop fishing and worked in the cleanup of the contaminated shores to earn money, which was barely enough to feed their families. They depended on the food donations to survive.
Now, the villagers are struggling to make their lives normal again.
Domiciano Gandesila, 58, said he returned to fishing in January, after receiving P12,000 from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund for economic damages resulting from the oil spill.
He spent P4,800 to buy a 5.5-horsepower motor for his boat while he used some of the money to buy fishing nets and other gear.
Gandesila said he gets about five kilos of fish daily, which he sells at P50 to P60 per kilo.
“There are times when I am lucky I get from 10 to 15 kilos. But mostly, the catch is low and we need to go farther into the sea,” he said.
The residents’ efforts to get back on their feet received a boost on Thursday after the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives inaugurated a livelihood and rehabilitation project to help residents cope with the long term effects of the oil spill.
The Canadian government provided funds after the Filipino-Canadian community in Canada asked their government to extend assistance to the oil spill victims.
The project involved the donation of four motorized boats, fishnets and other gear for deep-sea fishing to four clusters of fishermen. In turn, the fishermen from the four clusters would divide the income from their catch.
“We wanted a project that would result to a minimum displacement for the residents. So, we decided that our intervention would be concentrated on fishing,” said Myrna Jarillas, senior program officer of the Canadian International Development Agency.
Jarillas said the results of consultations by non-government groups implementing the project showed that residents preferred fishing.
“That’s what they’ve been doing all their lives,” Jarillas said.
The project also includes the distribution of 140 goats to the residents for breeding. The residents would also receive training on disaster management, gender sensitivity and mangrove reforestation.
Gandesila said they welcomed the project because it was the first to be implemented from the many promises that they heard.
Nueva Valencia Mayor Diosdado Gonzaga said the tragedy has brought opportunities for the people. At least 117 groups have donated rice, canned goods, noodles, clothes and cash for the victims.
However, Gonzaga said they were concerned that much of the 2.1 million liters of the bunker fuel were still inside the wreck of the tanker 640 meters below the sea.
“We can never be at peace as long as the threat of another massive oil spill is still there,” said Gonzaga.
But the residents are hopeful that the tragedy would find closure after the scheduled removal of the remaining oil from the sunken tanker next month.