Protect VIP, a coalition of sectors, communities, and organizations that advocate the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), on Friday called on President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. to personally intervene and order relevant government agencies to pour all efforts and resources to contain the oil spill from MT Princess Empress, reported to already reach Calapan.
The City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) of Calapan confirmed traces of oil on the shores of Brgy. Navotas. Calapan is a major economic center of the Mimaropa region.
“The only way to achieve the President’s hope to clean up the oil spill in four months is to compel government agencies to direct all resources for containment. We are also in support of the consensus raised during the Senate hearing for the need to assign an oil spill response chief. Mr. President, the VIP is a crucial contributor to the Philippine economy. You must move now,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP Convenor.
Gariguez, who is also the Director of the Diocesan Social Action Center of Calapan, is seeking more concrete plans from the national government as worries over the sustainability of the current assistance have surfaced.
“Even before the spillage has reached Calapan, we have been one with the entire province of Oriental Mindoro in responding to the needs of communities. But we can only do so much. We do not want the oil response to suffer the same fate of the sunken tanker – the captain must steer the ship towards safety and that someone should be the President,” added Fr. Gariguez.
Fisherfolk organizations in provinces surrounded by VIP have expressed worries on livelihood support and response.
“Hindi lamang ang oil spill ang ikinatatakot naming mga mangingisda, pati rin ang klase ng responde at suporta na aming makukuha. Nakita namin ang sinapit ng mga kapatid naming mangingisda sa Pola at Naujan kung kaya't kaming mga mangingisda ng Batangas na sakop ng Verde Island Passage ay malaki ang pangamba. Kaisa nila kami sa panawagan ng mabilis, kumpleto, at pang-matagalang suporta mula sa lokal at nasyonal na pamahalaan,” said Maximo Bayubay, External Vice President of Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas.
The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), a sustainability think-tank and Protect VIP convenor, deployed a team to survey the affected areas in Oriental Mindoro. It found that the no-fishing ban imposed in the aftermath of the spill is causing widespread effects on the economy of Oriental Mindoro.
“It’s not just fisherfolk – these barangays depend on the seas to bring in money for trade, transport, and tourism, and soon, the whole country would feel it too. The fishing sector in the VIP area, which includes Oriental Mindoro was valued at ₱11.8 billion in 2021 while in 2019, its tourism industry generated ₱3.5 billion. There must be decisive action to minimize the impact and demand accountability from the charterer and ship owner which seems to be heading towards a bailout based on how the Senate hearing last week went,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED.
Protect VIP has been adamant in its stance to demand full accountability from companies at fault: RDC Reield Marine Services as the owner of MT Princess Empress, and SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, exposed to be a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation.
“The government is moving but not fast enough. Half a month has passed already and the deployment of a remote operating vehicle (ROV) will not arrive until next week. In the short term, we need to identify who would compensate the affected residents and pay for the environmental damage to VIP. In the long run, our policymakers should not just look at oil spills from sunken ships, but also how to minimize the traffic of ships carrying poisonous cargo through this vulnerable area,” said Gariguez.