Ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Marcos, Protect VIP, a coalition of communities, sectors, and environmentalists advocating for the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) declared that the first environmental crisis under the Marcos administration is far from over, contrary to the statement of the Philippine Coast Guard declaring that the oil spill recovery efforts have been “completed.”
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in June declared oil spill recovery operations are completed, claiming that all the oil from the MT Princess Empress has been extracted. Today, however, there remains no assurance as to the health of contaminated seas and coasts, as illustrated by a fishing ban that remains in Pola, Oriental Mindoro due to concerns about all the industrial oil that leaked from the tanker’s cargo hold.
“According sa Philippine Coast Guard, 100% cleared ang dalampasigan ng Pola mula sa oil spill. Pero sa pagbisita natin 2-3 days ago, meron pang malalaking tarballs. The real situation is marami pa tayong kailangang linisin. Hindi pa tapos ang ating laban, hangga’t hindi pa nagkakaron ng katarungan para sa mga biktima ng oil spill na ating ipinaglalaban. Kahit mawala ang oil spill sa dalampasigan, ngunit walang kompensasyon para sa taong bayan, ibig sabihin hindi natapos ang laban,” said Mayor Cruz during the press conference.
Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP Convenor, said that no claim of oil spill recovery completion can be made as long as there is no accountability and concrete plans and policy to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“The Philippine Coast Guard says that oil spill operations are over, and we are concerned that this will easily be considered a victory for the Marcos administration's first environmental crisis as we approach SONA. But it is a hollow victory, as no one is held accountable and the government remains quiet about what it plans to do to prevent similar incidents in the future. We hope President Marcos can address this in his SONA, but there is no indication that any consultation or planning for such a program is in the works,” said Gariguez.
Ivan Andres, head of the Oceans, Coastal Communities, and Climate program of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), said that the extraction of oil from the tanker does not stop the effects of the oil that has already leaked.
“Speaking with fisherfolk in Calapan just this week, we heard laments that there is less fish catch upon the lifting of their fishing ban has been lifted - and this is an experience observed in oil spills in the past. Even if the tanker is now empty, leaked oil has lingering impacts on water quality, threatening fragile ecosystems in the VIP. We are concerned that fishing bans were lifted with no guarantee of the consuming public's safety due to the lack of public access to results of water quality testing conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR),” said Andres.
Gariguez added that the oil spill continues to stain communities due to poor government response.
“The oil spill in Mindoro is the first marine environmental disaster under the Marcos administration. Histories of oil spill impacts remain beyond what the eyes can see - and what we are hearing from the government are attempts at shoving this disaster under the rug, with no clarity on how solutions will be met for existing and long-term impacts. The President said that he would solve the oil spill in four months, but the state of the oil spill says otherwise,” said Gariguez.