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Fisherfolk seeking justice for Mindoro oil spill turned away by IOPC

CALAPAN, ORIENTAL MINDORO – Oil spill-affected fisherfolk and supporting groups headed to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC) office in Calapan City on Friday to file a demand letter seeking justice for massive damages caused by the 900,000 liter oil spill that impacted the waters of the Verde Island Passage in February 2023. The group, however, was turned away by the IOPC.

The letter - addressed to sunken ship owner RDC Reield Marine Services, Inc., oil owner San Miguel Corporation and its subsidiary that chartered MT Princess Empress, IOPC, and the Shipowners Club – called on polluters to take accountability and provide just compensation for affected communities. 

“Many communities were forced to put their livelihoods on hold, and had their health and sustenance harmed by the tragic oil spill. Long delays in the delivery of compensation and, worse, the unjust amount that has so far been rolled out or reportedly being considered are an insult added to injury. Payment promised by the IOPC only covers March to June 2023, which is but a fraction of damages caused and future losses from lasting impacts of the oil spill. This demand letter is a message that we will not back down until justice is served,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the group Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP).

The fisherfolk and supporting groups conducted a symbolic act of imprinting black stains on a white canvas with a call for justice, depicting the stain that the oil spill inflicted on their lives and livelihoods.

“The payment IOPC promised to us is really not enough. We are still in accumulated debt from the fishing ban, and even if we are allowed to fish now, we are still suffering due to the declining fish catch brought by the oil spill. Our livelihoods are permanently scarred. A few thousand pesos that would be gone in a few weeks or months is not commensurate to the loss we have experienced,” said Aldrin Villanueva, fisherfolk leader and president of Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisda Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS) in Filipino. 

In an earlier report, sustainability think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development estimated damages from the MT Princess oil spill amounting up to 800% more than government estimates.

“The oil spill resulting from the sinking of MT Princess Empress caused at least Php 41.2 billion worth of damages to the ecosystem and the dependent coastal communities. As we stand in solidarity with impacted fisherfolk and adjacent sectors, and we also urge government authorities to implement measures to avert fossil fueled disasters such as this in the future. Placing the entirety of VIP marine corridor under the protected areas system would be a critical first step,” said Ivan Andres, Deputy Head for Research and Policy of CEED.

The group expressed grave dismay after the IOPC office declined to receive the demand letter.

“The IOPC office here in Calapan refused to even receive the letter, which is a basic courtesy they should have extended to affected fisherfolk. It is as if the IOPC representatives present here do not understand their own mandate of ensuring just compensation for those affected by the oil spill, and fail to give due attention to their grievances. We are forced to resort to sending it through registered mail,” said Atty. Luke Expiritu of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, who assisted petitioners in filing the demand letter.

“The suffering of those affected by the oil spill have remained barely heard for far too long. The IOPC may have refused to even accept this letter today, but impacted fisherfolk and communities should be assured that the fight for justice and proper compensation continues,” said labor leader and Naujan native Leody De Guzman.



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