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31 DAYS OF AGONY

September 11, 2006

A month after sinking, Solar 1 still waiting to be ‘salvaged’

GUIMARAS – A month had passed since a Petron-chartered vessel carrying 2.1 million liters of oil sank in the Guimaras Strait, but MT Solar 1 remains at the bottom of the strait and could spill more bunker fuel.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, about 350,000 liters of oil have spilled from the tanker since August 11. The remaining 1.8 million liters is an ecological time bomb that will cause long-term and possible irreversible damage to the environment and to the livelihoods of people, ecological watchdog Greenpeace warned.

While about 40,000 people in Guimaras and Iloilo provinces have been dislocated by the oil spill, the Japanese team that surveyed Solar 1 has yet to release its recommendation – either to entomb the tanker, siphon the remaining bunker oil from it, or re-float it.

The survey team is expected to release its recommendations sometime this week yet, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

Meanwhile, fishermen in affected communities especially in Guimaras are facing a desperate and uncertain future. The oil spill has wreaked unimaginable havoc to the pristine marine resources of Guimaras, and to the livelihood and survival prospects of its people.

The Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) reported that 234.84 kilometers of coastline have been affected as of September 8, 15.8 square kilometers of coral reefs, 479.08 hectares of mangroves and 58 hectares of seaweeds.

The RDCC also recorded 1,070 persons with oil spill-related diseases/symptoms. Guimaras has the most number of sick persons – 999. The island province also has recorded two deaths as confirmed by the Department of Health (DOH).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared on September 6 that the oil spill had been “contained”. Petron seconded her, saying that the “worst is over.” But not everybody bought their statements.

The worst may yet happen if the remaining containers of the tanker holding the remaining 1.8 million liters of bunker fuel will break open due to strong water pressure, warned Gerry Ledesma of the Negros Forest and Marine Conservation Foundation.

Ledesma said strong westerly winds bring strong sea current. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) agrees.

PAGASA officer-in-charge Dr. Prisco Nilo also said the oil spill cleanup must be fast tracked before the wind pattern reverses in November; he said the reversal could possibly “transport” the oil spill in the vicinity of the Visayas.

He added that from the current wind pattern from southwest to the northeast, the wind pattern will completely reverse, resulting to the transport of the spilled oil towards Mindanao and Southern Visayas area this November up to around February or early March.

The RDCC had identified 38 threatened municipalities – one in Guimaras, 16 in Iloilo and 21 in Negros Occidental. These are:

• Guimaras – Jordan
• Iloilo — Miag-ao, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Oton, Leganes, Zarraga, Dumangas, Barotac Nuevo, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Viejo, Batad, Estancia, Carles (including Sicogon Island, Calagnaan Island, Binulwangan Island and Naburut Island), Concepcion (including Tagubahan Island, Igbon Island, Malangaban Island and Pan De Azucar Island) and Iloilo City (Villa in Arevalo and in Molo Districts); and
• Negros Occidental — Himamaylan, Binalbagan, Hinigaran, Pontevedra, San Enrique, Valladolid, Pulupandan, Bago City, Talisay City, Silay City, E.B. Magalona, Victorias City, Manapla, Cadiz City, Sagay City, Escalante City, Ilog, Cauayan, Sipalay City, Hinobaan and Bacolod City.

Petron said it would continue to finance the cleanup and rehabilitation of the areas contaminated by the oil spill.

Virginia Ruivivar, Petron’s public affairs manager, said in a weekly forum in Quezon City on Saturday that the company would fund the rehabilitation of the hundreds of oil-contaminated coastline in Guimaras and the hundreds of hectares of mangroves, as well as provide financial support to about 400 fisherfolk who have lost their livelihood.

Solar 1 owner Sunshine Maritime is claiming $6.7 million in insurance from the Shipping Owners of Luxembourg. The money would be used to pay for pollution damage, compensation for stricken communities, tourism loss and deaths resulting in the spill.

Ruivivar said that if the fund would not be enough, Petron has a $315-million insurance claim with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund that it could tap.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said, “The department has propositioned standby resources at its field office in Iloilo City: P2 million for cash-for-work projects, P2.5-million stockpile of relief commodities and P1.2-million worth of relief goods from Mirant Philippine Foundation.”

Cabral said the United Nations is providing protective gear for the cleanup and will come up with an assessment program from the spillage. The UN has given the country access to $16-million, or P800-million, support fund for the oil spill.

Ruivivar said there are three phases in the rehabilitation program where the affected families could earn as much as P300 a day: the coastal cleanup, mangrove cleanup and mangrove replacement.

In the ongoing coastal clean up, about 1,600 residents were already involved, Cabral said. Two members of each family spend four hours each, or eight hours per family per day. They receive the money in the afternoon.

Figures from the department showed that as of September 8, Petron has spent P5.52 million as payment to the families hired as cleanup crews in the 29 affected barangays in the municipalities of Nueva Valencia, Sam Lorenzo, Sibunag and Jordan.

The department, on the other hand, has provided relief augmentation assistance worth P1.4 million to the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council for rice, assorted canned goods and family packs, Cabral said.

Cabral added that her department would also release an augmentation support of 3,333 sacks of rice worth P1.7 million to Guimaras.

From Panay News, Sept. 11, 2006.)

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Change in wind patterns to worsen oil spill — PAGASA

September 11, 2006

ILOILO – The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said there is a need to fast track the MT Solar 1 oil spill cleanup before a typhoon affects Visayas in the coming weeks or before the wind pattern reverses in November.

PAGASA officer-in-charge Dr. Prisco Nilo said that the entry of a typhoon that could affect Guimaras would accelerate the transport of oil spill to the north.

Nilo also said that if a typhoon would directly pass the site of the oil spill, the ocean current will cause the oil to spill in different directions.

Nilo said the oil spill cleanup must be fast tracked before the wind pattern reverses in November which could possibly “transport” the oil spill in the vicinity of the Visayas.

He added that from the current wind pattern from southwest to the northeast, the wind pattern will completely reverse, resulting to the transport of the spilled oil towards Mindanao and Southern Visayas area this November up to around February or early March.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), on the other hand, said that once the cleanup in Guimaras is over, a comprehensive rehabilitation program will be undertaken by the government, with the scientific community and the local government units, to bring back Guimaras to normal again.

(FromPanay News, Sept. 11, 2006.)

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Insult to Gov. Nava

September 11, 2006

EDITORIAL
Panay News
Sept. 11, 2006

PETRON’s financial help to the province of Guimaras does not go directly to Gov. Rahman Nava but passes through other government agencies, like the DSWD and DOH. Petron also hires directly daily laborers to clean the beaches and pay them.

This style takes away the direct linkage of the governor with the natives of the island and deprives him of his executive functions for the people he serves. To him – even though he does not express his outward feelings – what the company does is an insult to his position as provincial executive. What a way to humiliate the honorable official before the public!

We believe that this is one of the many irritants between the governor on one hand, and Petron/Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. on the other hand.

It is deplorable to note that the two companies try to dilly-dally the release of their financial obligations to the victims of the mammoth oil sludge that has destroyed and continues to destroy the marine life, environment and tourism opportunities in the island.

Until now, the governor has remained patient over the sweet promises of Petron officials for financial assistance, which have not been fulfilled until press time. In fact, he has stretched the limits of his patience. He should have filed a one-billion peso damage suit last week yet, which he postponed due to the assurances made by Petron officials that “immediately” they would effect the release of some amount as partial settlement. They assured him that within a week’s time they would fulfill their commitments. That is the reason why the governor has withheld his planned legal action against Petron and Sunshine. He has also avoided negative publicity so as not to undermine the amicable negotiation.

But it is one month now since August 11 when the Solar l sank into the seabed with l.8 million liters of bunker fuel.

Contrary to what they assured the governor many times, all are mere talks, just nice, convincing words and sweet but empty promises. They are nothing, after all.

It is obvious that Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., owner of the ill-fated Solar 1, are buying time until such time when their insurer/s takeover the problem of indemnifying the victims. They do not want to pay from their own pockets because they think that, after all, it is their insurer/s or the oil universal funds that would take care of all the mess that they created. They actually shun from their principal liabilities so as to obviate financial losses.

Indeed, for lack of sincerity, they would take the governor for a ride.

We have it from reliable sources that on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, the case will be filed in the court of Guimaras to prove to all and sundry that the governor means business. He will prove to his constituents that he is not joking. This is one way also to protect the interest and welfare of the people and the province in general.

If the governor continues to wait and wait, people might think he has been “bought” Petron.

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‘Pag-ulikid sa Guimaras’ response overwhelming

September 11, 2006

ILOILO – In less than a week after the Civil Service Commission Regional Office VI (CSC RO6) launched the project “Pag-ulikid sa Guimaras”, the Ilonggos’ response was overwhelming.

The two trucks loaded with boxes, bags and sacks of goods which were turned over to the Province of Guimaras last September 1, 2006 as a kick-off activity of 106th Philippine Civil Service Anniversary celebration, was a manifestation of the Ilonggos’ sympathy to their brothers and sisters who were in need in times of crisis.

CSC Regional Director Imelda Abueg said she was impressed by the tremendous response of Ilonggos despite the very short time of appeal to government agencies/employees.

Alma Ravena, officer-in-charge, Human Resource Management and Development Office (HRMDO) and at the same time President of the Iloilo Council for Personnel Officer (for LGUs), acknowledged all the local government units and chiefs of offices of the Iloilo Provincial Government who heeded the call to support the affected families in Guimaras.

Fe Robles, president, Iloilo Council for Personnel Officer (for NGAs), also expressed appreciation to the national government agencies employees for their generosity and social responsiveness.

Meanwhile, Elmer Ganancial, Provincial Administrator of Guimaras who received the donations in behalf of Gov. Rahman Nava, said what they can give in return to those who shared their blessings is “a prayer that they may reap the fruits of seeds they sow.”

He said the oil spill that turned into an environmental catastrophe left 26,000 individuals affected; most of them marginalized fisherfolk whose means of livelihood disappeared in a bat of an eyelash.

In a simple ceremony held at the capitol lobby, the following were breakdown of goods turned over to Guimaras: 96 sacks of rice, 293 bags of assorted goods, 13 plastic bags of assorted good, 18 sacks of assorted goods, a bag of used clothing, a sack of sugar, bag of hair (from Iloilo Rehabilitation Center) and P1,958.75 cash from concerned citizens and elementary pupils and high school students of Tigbuan.

The Iloilo City Government also sent an elf truck loaded with assorted goods as well as the Provincial Government of Capiz.

Abueg said another turnover ceremony will be held before September ends.

(From Panay News, Sept. 11, 2006.)

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Science-based response to the oil spill

September 11, 2006

AS early as August 10, a day before MT Solar 1 sank and spilled oil in the western part of the Panay strait or Guimaras, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been in the forefront of providing its usual services, particularly on weather conditions through the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa). It issued an initial gale warning due to southwest monsoon surge on that day and on August 11, the day MT Solar 1 sank.

To date, 96.6 percent of the total 220-kilometer coastline of Guimaras has been affected by the oil spill with 23 barangays out of 55 disturbed in terms of livelihood. Since then, Pagasa has been providing daily updates regarding the southwest monsoon surge, and through operational wave models, the initial estimate of oil displaced was known.

Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, together with Gen. Glenn Rabonza, executive administrator of the Civil Defense and executive officer of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, presented in a press conference on September 2, the complete science-based response from clean-up to mitigation and rehabilitation interventions. Rabonza also gave Task Force Guimaras updates.

Currently, all agencies concerned in the oil spill are in the response and relief mode, according to Rabonza. In the rehabilitation mode, the S&T inputs will have to be implemented.

Secretary Alabastro said that the science-based response represents all the inputs of the science community, including the academic institutions. The DOST has been designated to certify all agencies that intend to test or implement their technologies or processes that may help in the clean-up activities. For environmental concerns, it is the DENR that will issue permits. This step will deter agencies or individuals who will just get in and may hamper or cause confusion as to what remedial measures are being implemented.

Also, the DOST Regional Office in Iloilo has been focused on the oil spill with its testing laboratories being used for analytical purposes.

Other testing and analysis centers in Western Visayas have also said that the famous Guimaras mango is unaffected by the oil spill and is edible as ever just like groundwater fishes. Crustaceans, however, are contaminated and the people are advised not to consume them.

Clean-up interventions: ‘Bunot not buhok’

The DOST recommends the use of natural materials like coconut husks, rice straw, feathers and corn cobs/stalks in the absorption of oil sludge/tar.

Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul stressed during that the DOST does not recommend the use of human hair or buhok to absorb the oil sludge/tar since there is no full study on this yet and it is impractical in terms of volume. Besides, human hair is harder to degrade and once it is goes out to marine environment, it will be difficult to retrieve.

Natural materials like cocohusk or bunot are easier to handle and degrade faster. To this, Romblon, the coconut-producing province where the first coco-methyl ester plant was established, has started to donate coconut husks for the clean-up operations in Guimaras. Feathers may also be feasible but this must have to be dried well so it will not be another cause of air pollution.

There is also a plan to conduct cocombustion or the reuse of the natural materials like cocohusks and rice straw that were used as improvised booms to contain the oil. These materials will be collected to be reused in a cement plant in Mindanao as alternative fuel and raw materials for “cement kiln processing.” This will be monitored by both the DOST and DENR.

The daily monitoring inputs of Pagasa on weather information, satellite imageries, wave and ocean circulation model outputs will continue to guide the agencies involved in the clean-up operations.

Oil-spill impact assessments

AIR-, soil- and water-quality measurements will be established to determine the oil spill’s effects on marine ecosystem, including health hazards to those living in the affected coastal areas. To complete the environmental assessment, onshore geology will be studied, with the University of the Philippines-Visayas serving as the central repository of all data that will be generated.

Mitigation plan for residual oil

The DOST’s Industrial Technology Development Institute (Itdi) has developed a technology on bioremediation on-site or off-site with the use of a bioreactor. The Itdi has identified oil-eating microorganisms Pseudomonas aeruginosa as the best strain. This strain is used worldwide to treat coastal waters contaminated with oil spill.

The Itdi has locally isolated this strain in the oil-contaminated estero in Pandacan. Once this is used in the affected areas in Guimaras, the microbes will eat up the oil blobs, eventually die naturally and settle at the seafloor leaving no harmful effects on the ecosystem. However, the go signal of Petron, the local government units, the DENR and UP will be sought before this technology is applied.

Rehabilitation protocols

The DOST is also spearheading the activities on the rehabilitation plans for Guimaras. Its partners will be the Departments of Environment, Agriculture, Health and Energy, the LGUs, UP System, Philippine Coast Guard, Marina and Namria.

The following are the rehabilitation activities that need to be pursued:

•Study of long-term effects of oil spill on coastal and marine ecosystems;
•Study of meteorological effect on oil spill-impacted areas;
•Determination of long-term effects of the oil spill on the health of the local populace;
•Reintroduction of depleted marine species;
•Continuous monitoring of air, water, soil, health and other elements until they reach normal acceptable levels;
•Provision of climatological information in determining alternative sea routes; and the
•Study on the possible effects of oil spill to groundwater resources.
Lyn Tabangcura/S&T Media Service via Business Mirror, Sept. 11, 2006

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Likidong panglinis ng oil spill sinubukan sa Guimaras (Liquid cleanser for oil spill tested in Guimaras)

September 11, 2006

POSIBLE na raw na hindi na kailangan pang hakutin ang mga basura dulot ng oil spill dahil may solusyon na ang mga dalubhasa mula sa bansang Japan. (It may be possible to do away with removing sludge and garbage created by the oil spill in Guimaras, as Japanese experts arrived yesterday offering a solution.)

Sa Barangay Tando, Nueva Valencia, na apektado ng oil spill unang dumaan ang ocean environmental engineering team ni Prof. Kenji Hotta ng Nihon University sa Japan. (An ocean environmental engineering team led by Prof. Kenji Hotta of the Nippon University in Japan first stopped at Brgy. Tando, Nueva Valencia, which has been affected by the oil spill.)

Bitbit ng mga Hapon ang “Jas Coat” na kaya umanong maglinis ng kontaminadong buhangin at bakawan. (The Japanese brought containers of “Jas Coat”, which they claimed could clean the tainted sand and mangroves.)

Nang subukan nila ito sa maitim na bakawan, napanganga sa bilib ang lahat dahil sa isang iglap naibalik ito sa normal na kulay. (When they tested it on the blackened mangroves, these returned to their normal color, much to the surprise of those watching the experiment.)

Pati tubig-dagat, kaya nitong tanggalan ng langis. (Even the seawater was cleansed of the oil slick.)

Ang Jas Coat ay gawa sa wooden ash o abo na galing naman sa paper sludge. (Jas Coat is made of wooden ash or ash which came from paper sludge.)

Bukod sa langis kaya rin nitong burahin ang mantsa sa heavy metals at boron sa lupa at buhangin. (Aside from oil, it can also remove stains on heavy metals and boron in the soil or sand.)

Subok na rin daw ang kemikal sa ibang bansa. (The chemical has supposedly been tested already in other countries.)

Kabilang sa nag-obserba sa testing ng Jas Coat ang kinatawan ng Philippine Coast Guard at Petron. (Among those who observed the Jas Coat test were representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard and Petron Corp.)

Pero kailangan pa raw nila itong isangguni sa Department of Science and Technology at sa Marine Environmental Protection kung ligtas itong gamitin na panglinis ng oil spill sa Guimaras. (But the representatives said they still have to consult with the Department of Science and Technology as well as the Marine Environment Protection Group if the chemical is safe to use in cleaning the oil spill in Guimaras.)

(From ABS-CBN News, Sept. 10, 2006.)

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Mangroves, sea grass and oil spills

September 11, 2006

MANGROVE forests and sea-grass beds play an important role in marine biodiversity. Mangroves not only protect coasts from storms and tsunamis, but also serve as feeding sites and nurseries for fish, shrimps, crabs and other creatures.

Like mangroves, sea-grass beds support and harbor young fish, shrimps, prawns, crabs and sea cucumbers. They also serve as feeding ground for turtles and the endangered dugong.

However, the country’s mangrove forests and sea-grass beds face degradation. More than 70 percent of mangrove forests in the country have been cut, converted to fishponds or reclaimed for other uses, according to a World Bank report.

The report also found that “half of the sea-grass beds have either been lost or severely degraded, and the rate of degradation is increasing.”

The massive oil spill off Guimaras Island has destroyed 454 ha of mangroves, including most of the 46-ha mangrove forest on Taklong Island. The oil spill from M/T Solar I, which was loaded with 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel oil when it sank on Aug. 11, also has contaminated or destroyed 58 ha of seaweed farms.

Rehabilitation and recovery of marine life contaminated by the oil spill could take 10 to 20 years, according to scientists at the University of the Philippines Visayas.

(For the entire piece, click Mangroves, etc., Sept. 10. 2006.)