Residents of the coastal areas of Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines no longer have income to make ends meet and government aid is lacking, in the aftermath of the oil spill that devastated their hometowns in February.
A coalition of scientists and environmental groups conducted a survey among 400 respondents covering two municipalities and six towns across Oriental Mindoro. More than 90 per cent were found to “not earn enough to meet their family’s needs” while almost all said the relief goods provided by the local government were “slow and insufficient”.
“On top of environmental issues, residents are having to deal with little to no income these past few weeks, causing trickle-down effects on their health and education,” said Jordan Fronda, research coordinator of the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines (CEC), one of the members of the fact-finding mission conducted from 1 to 3 April.
The study showed that in the town of Calapan, parents would only send their children to school up to three times a week at most for lack of money for transportation. In the nearby town of Pola, 87 per cent of the respondents were exposed to the oil spill through inhalation, with 24.5 per cent experiencing depression from the economic and health effects of the crisis.
Environmental advocates want the government to make those responsible pay for reparations, even if gaps in local shipping laws do not oblige a charterer to pay for pollution damage. SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, which chartered RDC Reield Marine Services to ship the oil tanker, has been reported to be owned by a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the country’s largest conglomerate.
SMC denied ownership of the charterer, saying its oil subsidiary Petron has “responded to the call of government for oil companies to assist in the cleanup and containment efforts from day one”, even if it did not own the fuel oil cargo the tanker was carrying at the time of the incident.
“[Petron] has provided oil spill booms and made available other resources, personnel and facilities helpful in containing the spill. SMC, for its part, continues to provide assistance to affected communities as part of its commitment to assist our countrymen in times of natural calamities and disasters,” Mary Jane Llanes, media affairs group head of SMC, told Eco-Business.
Brigada Kalikasan, one of the members of the coalition that conducted the survey, said so far RDC Reield Marine Services has funded the shoreline clean-up in Pola, contracting Harbor Star Shipping Services Inc., to pay a daily rate of about US$6 to fishermen to remove the oil sludge for four hours every morning.
In Pola, the report noted how there was an average loss of US$137 per month for every family due to the fishing ban, with residents kept afloat by farming and “cash for work” programmes like the oil clean-up and street sweeping.
“The scale of the impacts are immense, which really shows the need for immediate and more comprehensive action responding to the needs of the people,” said Berto Alinea, coordinator of Serve the People Corps Southern Tagalog, in a press conference on Monday.
“Civil society is doing what we can but this is not enough. We need the national government to improve and hasten its response, especially in terms of addressing the socio-economic impacts. We enjoin the Mindoreños in seeking accountability to RDC Reield Marine Services for the grave ecological and environmental impacts caused by the oil spill,” he said.
Oil tanker MT Princess Empress was carrying 900,000 litres (238,000 gallons) of industrial oil when it went down in rough seas off Oriental Mindoro on 28 February. Since then, the livelihoods of the 18,000 fisherfolk of the province have been affected and almost 200 have reported sick due mostly to respiratory problems from the smell of the oil. Marine hotspots in the area like the Verde Island Passage have also been impacted by the disaster.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include SMC’s replies.
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