Sinister claims dragging oil spill compensation
By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Aug. 7, 2007
GUIMARAS fisherman Glen Gabito shows his fishing gear that has been rendered useless by the oil spill one year ago. He said he refused to accept the P14,000 compensation because this was way too small. (Photo from Panay News)
GUIMARAS – Almost a year since the oil spill that ravaged several kilometers of coastal areas and marine life of this island province, the struggle of the affected residents for just compensation continues.
A total of 11,227 claims (first batch) have been paid by the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) reaching P118,852,193. The second batch of claimants, however, is having difficulty.
Gov. Felipe Hilan-Nava said the IOPC is carefully checking each claim and weeding out dubious ones. There are 125,614 claimants for the second batch but the IOPC has considered only 134 claims.
The 134, added Nava, are still being screened for final approval.
IOPC made some startling discoveries, among these were the incomplete information on the claim registration or insufficient signatures verifying that claimants are bona fide fisherfolks; some claimants already received compensation but applied again; others were underage; and several more were not even coastal residents but inland villagers.
Nava disclosed that of the five municipalities in Guimaras, only claimants from Jordan and San Lorenzo towns were approved with 129 and five claims, respectively.
The IOPC made a surprising discovery — the number of claimants exceeded the number of population in Sibunag, Nueva Valencia and Buenavista towns.
According to Nava, the municipality of Sibunag has a population of 17,802 but the number of claimants from there reached 21,152; Nueva Valencia has a population of 36,813 but the claims from there totaled to 37,764; and Buenavista has a population of 44,853 yet the number of residents seeking compensation reached 45,451.
“In the last meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (in Manila), I left the room. I didn’t like the tenor of (Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael) Coscolluela and the Petron Corp. that residents here were opportunistic,” he said.
Nava, however, admitted he was surprised by the number of claimants.
“Almost all claims were rejected because of this,” he lamented.
The oil spill hit Guimaras on August 11, 2006. Coastal residents and fishermen complained of low fish catch, or no catch at all. Some had health-related complaints. They were later promised compensation by the IOPC.
But Nava said some unscrupulous politicians used the claims to further their own agenda at the expense of the unsuspecting residents. They used it as “part of their campaign slogan (during the last elections) … they misguided the people into making money the easy way.”
The IOPC tapped fisheries experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) to help assess the claims of those seeking compensation.
Claimants file damage claims with the amount of compensation derived from declaration of losses and their average income before the oil spill.
Those seeking compensation claimed they were fisherfolk, shell gatherers, fingerlings gatherers and fishpond operators, among others.
Due to the lack of credentials to support the claimants, village chiefs were the ones facilitating the identification of residents directly and indirectly affected by the oil spill to be endorsed by the agriculture and fisheries council, mayor, municipal agriculturist, congressman, or the governor.
Last month, Coscolluela claimed that the second batch of claimants was “politically accommodated”. These claims were filed before the elections…somebody might have advised them to file their claims justifying their loss (brought about by the spill),” Coscolluela said.
“The local officials find it hard to reject them outright. They just leave the validation of the claims to the IOPC. The claimants demanded for endorsements from the agriculture and fisheries council, from the mayor, from the municipal agriculturist, from the congressman, or from the governor,” Coscolluela added.