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Immediate action needed on oil spill to protect Verde Island Passage, group says

Protect VIP, a coalition that seeks to protect the Verde Island Passage (VIP), on Wednesday called on the government to urgently act on the oil spill caused by the tanker that sank off the coast of Romblon, one of the five provinces surrounding the fragile marine corridor of VIP.


The MT Princess Empress was on its way from Limay, Bataan to Iloilo when it developed engine trouble and sank off Tablas Island, Romblon. It was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil.


“Industrial oil is a very potent poison to the flora and fauna of the Verde Island Passage and will negatively impact food security specifically in the fisheries sector. This oil spill exposes the rich bounty of VIP - fishes may experience reduced growth and the turbid waters will make it harder for seagrasses and coral to grow. We are calling on the government to expedite clean-up operations to minimize the damage and allow the people who depend on the riches of the sea to resume their normal activities,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP.


More than 2 million Filipinos, such as fisherfolk and those in the tourism industry, depend on the biodiversity and resources from VIP, which has been called the center of the center of shore fish biodiversity.


“We are concerned that fishing activities will be restricted if the spill is not addressed soon. Potential fish kills due to the oil spill may cause lesser fish stock out of the already dwindling fish catch. The oil spill exacerbates the existing issues faced by our fisherfolks, who are among the poorest sector in the country. Not to mention that the fish that might end up in our tables might be unsafe for consumption and might lead to food poisoning,” said Gariguez, who is a long-term advocate for the environment who was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2014 for his work to protect Mindoro from destructive mining.


Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, also cautioned against the lasting impacts of oil spills as experienced during the Guimaras oil spill in 2006, the worst oil spill in the country’s history, leaking 500,000 liters of oil that traveled up through the Guimaras Strait and Iloilo Strait.


“The Guimaras Strait incident way back in 2006 was a portrait of how gruesome oil spills can be. The recovery was long and arduous where mangroves only began to show signs of recovery in 2019 - 13 years after the incident. This should have been a warning sign to the government that relying on fossil fuels like oil poses massive damage to the environment but it seems like they still haven't learned a lesson,” Arances added.


Concerns were also raised due to the expected increase of tanker traffic in the area due to the proposed construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in the vicinity of VIP, which covers the provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Batangas, Romblon, and Marinduque.


“This is not the first accident in the VIP nor will it be the last if the push for more LNG terminals will not be stopped. The more tankers ply these waters, the higher the chances another such accident will occur, even if all precautions are taken. The next accident might be bigger and irreparably damage VIP. For this reason, we call on the government to reconsider its pivot to imported LNG as a solution to the ongoing power crisis,” said Arances.

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