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Indictment against VIP oil spill polluters, negligent authorities long overdue

Protect VIP, a coalition of communities, sectors, and advocates for the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), on Thursday lauded the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) recommendation to file criminal charges against the owner of MT Princess Empress that capsized off the coast of Oriental Mindoro almost a year ago, alongside negligent government authorities.

The indictment comes with confirmation that the DOJ has found violations including multiple counts of falsification of private documents, use of falsified documents, and multiple counts of falsification of public documents against RDC Reield Marines Services, Inc., Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) personnel.

“Communities and fisherfolk affected by the oil spill have been seeking justice for almost a year. They should not be made to wait any longer. This order from the DOJ is a crucial step toward holding polluting companies and erring government authorities accountable. At the same time, it is a wake-up call to the urgency of guarding our treasured marine biodiversity and communities against the multitude of threats faced by the VIP such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and other fossil fuel activities, shipping of toxic cargo, and illegal and unreported commercial fishing, and others,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead Convenor of Protect VIP.

Gariguez also stressed the need to hold accountable all responsible for the oil spill, including San Miguel Corporation, which has been identified as the charterer through its subsidiary, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, and owner of the oil ferried by MT Princess Empress.

“If it is indeed proven that falsified documents are what enabled MT Princess Empress to set sail, we wonder why San Miguel Corporation, the owner of the oil cargo who thus engaged a problematic shipping company to ferry its toxic cargo, is not being held accountable for its share of responsibility in this tragedy,” added Gariguez.

Mayor Jennifer Cruz of Pola, Oriental Mindoro, underscored that this case serves as a testament to the community's resilience in asserting their rights, after their year-long struggle of seeking justice.

“Up until now, Pola is still recovering from the aftermath of this tragedy and this is proof that the oil spill is not yet over. We have lost so much in terms of our economy and livelihood of our fisherfolks but this case represents that we have not lost our will to continue pushing for our rights. I stand alongside my people in our unwavering pursuit of justice,” Mayor Cruz added.

Aldrin Villanueva, fisherfolk leader of Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS) expressed that the oil spill robbed them of their livelihood and that this case would just be the first step.

“Hindi biro ang dinanas at patuloy na dinadanas na hirap ng mga mangingisda at komunidad na naapektuhan ng oil spill. Dagdag sa pagdurusa namin ang pagiging mailap ng hustisya at pagtuturuan ng kung sino ba ang may sala sa nangyari. Sa ginawang ito ng DOJ, magkakaisa kaming mga mangingisda sa pagbabantay na matiyak na mapapanagot ang mga may pagkukulang, at sa panawagang huwag nang maulit ang ganitong klaseng trahedya,” Villanueva said.



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