A month after the sinking of the ill-fated MT Princess Empress off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, cause-oriented groups have bonded together and launched the “SOS: Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas!” (SOS) to pool efforts in calling for immediate accountability and action on the oil spill.
The members of the coalition raised concern over the level of responses so far being 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.
The coalition lambasted 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.
“The big problem now is the day-to-day food requirements [of the affected communities] and the lingering question of where can they get the money to buy food. Even the tourism industry is affected and it happened at a time when tourists are supposed to start coming. This will no longer happen. What we want is concrete and quick action from the government, the owner of the vessel, and the charterer. There should be accountability for government officials who have been remiss of their duties,” Dindo Melaya, convenor of Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill said in a statement.
The launch was joined and organized by groups and representatives including Protect VIP, KMAOS, Greenpeace Philippines, Oceana, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), 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 added.
“The response has been agonizingly slow, but even more glaring is the invisibility of those truly responsible for this catastrophe-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 in 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 the 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 worry about the continuing 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, which is 400 meters below sea level. The immense pressure it is subjected to will build up even more as days go by, and can lead to even more disastrous consequences if we fail to address this immediately,” said Atty. Liza Osorio, Campaigns Legal and Policy Director of Oceana.
Oil spill-affected communities being advised against suing ship owner?
Meanwhile, Greenpeace expressed concern over reports that the insurers of MT Princess Empress are dissuading potential claimants from filing charges against RDC.
Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Chua said: “It is utterly unacceptable that an insurer would discourage claimants from exercising their legal right to seek justice while dangling compensation money over their heads. Communities have suffered enough in the past month and the last thing they need is more disenfranchisement from companies who continue to operate with impunity.
“While the insurer has the responsibility of making sure claimants fully know their rights and the consequences of their choices, it has no business airing their suggestions about what claimants should or should not be doing. This reveals the self-serving mindset of these companies: that impacted communities are mere collateral damage and they can easily be paid off. Treating people like this without considering long-term reparations is a classic move by companies that refuse to acknowledge that their business operations constitute grave threats against communities and biodiversity. It’s a move to escape accountability.
“The government should make these polluters come out in the open, take responsibility for the spill, and pay reparations due to the communities. It has been a month since the oil spill and we’ve yet to see our government agencies provide a complete and accurate valuation of the damages–without this, the companies involved are being given an easy way out. It is in the best interest of the government to protect people, our valuable natural resources, and economy against companies that operate without regard for the serious and often irreparable consequences of their destructive business…We call on the President to demand reparations from those responsible for this ongoing catastrophe.” -30-
Image credits: Oceana Phils