Communities affected by the MT Princess Empress oil spill, led by Protect VIP, a coalition advocating the protection of the Verde Island Passage, on Monday staged protests at the offices of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to question the government’s declaration that the oil spill is over.
Groups within Protect VIP conducted rapid water quality assessment tests in the waters of Pinamalayan and Pola which showed the concentration of oil and grease are still above what is allowed by DENR for water quality standards in marine protected areas.
“We are disappointed that after more than a month of silence, after stopping the regular situation reports, the government will suddenly declare the oil spill over,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP.
“We hope that this is not a PR move on the part of the government. If the objective of the sudden declaration is to give President Marcos something glowing to report in the SONA, then not only is it wrong, but it also an injustice to the fisherfolk who would be exposed to the harm and consequences of this search for achievements. We are not against the restoration of normal lives for fisherfolk - that is want we want. However, we want this restoration to happen when things are indeed safe, and the lack of transparency on the part of the government is making us concerned ,” he added.
In a statement, Protect VIP also questioned the actions of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), which sent out invitations for a demobilization ceremony without publishing any test results on which to base the decision to end the response, along with other government agencies who seem eager to move on from the spill.
“We are concerned by the lack of transparency on the scientific basis and methodologies employed by the government to order such lifting of fishing bans. It was over a month ago since the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last published a situational report, which still found oil and grease, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds in Pola. As for the BFAR, its water quality tests are not substantiated by published reports that would establish the conduct of a robust quantitative test. BFAR’s oil spill bulletin does not show the comprehensive results of water testing in terms of oil and grease for water quality assessment and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in fish samples. The presence of PAHs, some of which are carcinogenic, is of significant concern: they can bioaccumulate in fish and cause harm if consumed over a prolonged period of time,” the statement read.
Fisherfolk were also dismayed with the announcements, which contradicted what they themselves see with their own eyes.
“Kung anong bagal ng pagdating ng tugon ay siya namang bilis sa kanilang pagnanais na isara na ang oil spill kahit pa patuloy itong nagsisilbing krisis para sa mga mangingisda. Wala nang maayos na danyos-perwisyo sa aming mga mangingisda, wala pang nanagot. Wala pa sa kalahati nang nawala ang naibalik sa amin at nariyan pa rin ang mga bahid ng langis at grasa sa mga dalampasigan at ilalim ng tubig. Para naman kaming iniwan sa ere,” said Dindo Melaya, convenor of the Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS), a group of fisherfolk from Oriental Mindoro.