Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said he informed President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Tuesday that Washington will help in cleaning up the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.
“I had a phone call last night (March 20) with (United States Secretary of Defense) Lloyd Austin at 7:45 p.m. They are committed to help in coordination with Japan and other countries,” Galvez told the President.
He noted that the US will deploy a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) team to aid in removing the oil spill, which resulted from the sinking of MT Princess Empress last February 28.
The DND chief said he had also recommended the inclusion of the clean-up activity in the forthcoming Balikatan drills next month.
The Balikatan is the annual Philippine-led bilateral exercise of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Armed Forces.
MT Princess Empress carried 800,000 liters of industrial fuel when it sank off the Naujan town.
The resulting oil spill from the incident already affected 32,661 families in Mimaropa and Western Visayas.
Galvez said Manila is now seeking technical support from other countries like France and the United Kingdom to contain the oil spill in Mindoro.
The Climate Change Commission (CCC) opposed the use of chemical-based dispersants in Oriental Mindoro due to its potential harm to marine ecosystems.
CCC Commissioner Albert Dela Cruz gave the warning during his meeting with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) last Monday to discuss ongoing efforts to contain the oil spill.
“The Commissioner explained that the said droplets do not actually reduce the amount of oil entering the environment but push the effects of the spill underwater and this could have harmful effects on the marine environment and ecosystem,” CCC said in a statement issued last Tuesday.
The University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) issued an advisory that the oil spill could reach the shores of Calapan City within the week.
Cruz noted the oil spill and the chemical dispersants can be more devastating if it reaches the Verde Island Passage area located northwest of Calapan and Naujan, which is a breeding ground of a number of marine species.
Authorities are now rushing to clean up the oil spill, which is expected to spread further with the end of the northeast monsoon or “amihan.”
Cruz urged the use of a “whole-of-nation and -society approach” instead of using chemical-based dispersants to address the oil spill.
Calapan City mayor Malou Morillo said residents and the local government are using improvised spill booms made from rice straws, ropes, empty plastic bottles and sacks to protect the city’s waters from the oil spill.
The Japanese salvage vessel Shin Nichi Maru, a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), also arrived at the port of Calapan in Oriental Mindoro on Monday to help in the cleanup efforts.
‘Threat to tourist spots’
Batangas Rep. Gerville Luistro on Tuesday called for an “aggressive cleanup drive” as the Mindoro oil spill is now affecting his province’s tourist destinations in Mabini, Bauan, Lobo, San Luis, San Pascual and Tingloy as well as the Verde Island Passage (VIP).
“After the Covid-19 pandemic, which closed our hotels, resorts and tourist destinations, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and livelihood, now comes the oil spill,” she said.
“We can tap the resources of the Department of Labor and Employment-Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers [DOLE-TUPAD], Department of Social Work and Development Assistance for Individuals in Crisis Situations [DSWD-AICS], among other government funds for this purpose,” said Luistro, who authored House Bill 6089, which sought to declare the Verde Island Passage as an ecotourism zone.
Image credits: Greenpeace Philippines