A month after the sinking of MT Princess Empress off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, civil society, non-government and people’s organizations, faith-based groups, lawyers, academe, fisherfolk, youth, experts and advocates launched a coalition labeled ‘SOS: Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas!’ (SOS) to pool efforts in calling for immediate accountability and action on the oil spill.
Composed of groups and organizations who already pursue various independent and collaborative initiatives in response to the spill and in support of affected communities, SOS raised concern over the level of responses so far led by the government.
“We, a collective of concerned and affected stakeholders, are very alarmed by the inadequate level of response afforded to this disaster. While government agencies have been taking action, it does not seem to be the prompt and coordinated response needed by this oil spill which is already a disaster of national and international proportions. A tragedy of this scale - one that directly affects an estimated 36,000 families whose lives and livelihoods are interwoven into the health of our seas - must be met with the greatest possible action and highest standard for accountability of all involved actors,” the group said in a statement, as read by Calapan-based Fr. Edwin Gariguez, who convenes the Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP).
The groups called attention to the government’s lack of transparency and urgency in oil spill containment efforts and investigations, increasing scope of affected seas and communities, insufficient action to ensure accountability and lingering silence on decisive and punitive actions to be taken against liable actors, lack of opportunities for the meaningful participation of stakeholders, and absence of any meaningful discourse on policy reforms needed to protect coastal and marine communities and biodiversity and to prevent future spills.
“Ang malaking problema ngayon ay ang pang-araw araw na pagkain at gastusin ng mga maliliit na mangingisda. Hanggang sa ngayon, walang malinaw na kasagutan kung kailan babalik sa dati - bibilang ba ito ng buwan, taon, o maaaring dekada? Apektado din ang tourism industry, kung kailan panahon ng summer na sana ay maraming turista ang papasok sa aming lalawigan. Hindi ito mangyayari. Ang hinihiling namin ay konkreto at mabilis na aksyon mula sa gobyerno, sa may-ari ng vessel, at sa charterer.Dapat din magkaroon ng pananagutan doon sa mga opisyal ng gobyerno na naging pabaya sa pangyayaring ito. Dapat managot ang dapat managot,” said Dindo Melaya, convenor of Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS).
The launch was joined and organized by groups and representatives including Protect VIP, KMAOS, Greenpeace Philippines, Oceana, Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, Caritas Philippines, Lipa Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment (AMEN), Mindoro State University, Batangas State University, Greenresearch, Manila Doctors Hospital, PAMALAKAYA, and many others.
“We are not satisfied with the government response to the oil spill. The Coast Guard waited three weeks for the owner of the ship to deploy a remote operated vessel to locate the tanker, only to find out it could not stop the leak. Oil already visible from Day 1 was not properly contained. We have yet to see a proper whole-of-nation approach from the national government. And worse still, there is only silence on what is being done to hold the shipowner and the cargo owner responsible for one of the biggest oil spills in Philippine history,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director sustainability think-tank CEED.
The responsibility of polluting companies behind the spill must not be taken lightly, the groups said.
“The response has been agonizingly slow, but even more glaring is the invisibility of those truly responsible for this catastrophe - RDC RDC Reield Marine Services, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, and by extension San Miguel Corporation Shipping and Lighterage. It is an affront to our human rights that these companies are allowed to operate not only with anonymity, but more so with impunity. This situation is making it very obvious that the government does not have the power to police these companies, and that it is actually the best interest of the government to hold these companies into account and demand reparations not only for economic damages, but more importantly for non-economic impacts to people and ecosystems, and the long-term rehabilitation of those ecosystems and the livelihoods” said Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Jefferson Chua.
SOS also reiterated demands for government to move quickly to contain the oil spill, or pay the consequences of a more catastrophic disaster should the still sunken ship and its cargo yield to underwater pressure.
“"We are alarmed by the apparent lack of urgency on the part of the government in responding to this disaster. It’s been a month already, and what they have done as of now is identify where the boat is. The immense pressure on the boat underwater will intensify as days pass and this can lead to even more disastrous consequences if we fail to contain its spread immediately,” said Atty. Liza Osorio, Campaigns Legal and Policy Director of Oceana.