Protectors of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) on Monday pressed the government anew to bestow “legal protection” for one of the country’s most productive water bodies following two oil spill threats in the marine corridor in a span of one week.
Protect VIP, a coalition of environmental groups, community-based groups, and conservation advocates, issued the call following the sea mishaps that happened in Occidental Mindoro and Batangas.
On September 3, MV Joegie 5, loaded with 15,000 liters of diesel in its fuel tank, ran aground in Paluan, Occidental Mindoro, while on August 27, the fishing vessel FV Anita DJ II was carrying 70,000 liters of marine diesel when it capsized in the waters off Calatagan, Batangas. Occidental Mindoro and Batangas are both part of the five provinces surrounding the VIP.
These two sea mishaps came following the sinking of MV Princess Empress off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28, 2023. The incident caused an oil spill in the waters of the provinces of Antique, Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, and Palawan, which eventually threatened the VIP.
Communities affected by the Mindoro oil spill are still reeling from the adverse environmental and socioeconomic impact of the oil spill, which prompted authorities to declare a fishing ban in the affected areas.
“Having two marine accidents in a span of one week is alarming for a place as ecologically important as the Verde Island Passage. Given how busy of a shipping lane the VIP is, such accidents illustrate how vulnerable the rich marine life is without legal protection. The government failed to act on the biggest lesson of the Oriental Mindoro oil spill and has let more than six months go by without affording any protection at all to the Amazon of the oceans,” Father Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP said in a statement.
Brent Ivan Andres, environmental scientist and Head of the Oceans, Coastal Communities, and Climate Program of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, also warned against the impending traffic of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers plying the VIP as Batangas is poised to be the host of several LNG projects.
“As VIP is the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world, we should treat every potential ecological harm in this marine corridor with extra precaution. With the existing five gas plants and one operational LNG terminal on top of the eight power plants and seven terminals in the pipeline, the government should be alarmed by the duress this will bring to the VIP. This highlights the need for its inclusion in the ENIPAS [Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems] Act and ban of shipping toxic cargos along the area to safeguard the VIP from numerous threats,” Andres added.
Gariguez also questioned why shipping vessels are allowed to set sail despite bad weather, which was the case with the three recent marine accidents in the VIP.
“The impacts of climate crisis such as the increased intensity and frequency of typhoons and strong wave actions contribute to the capsizing of major vessels have caused massive oil spills in the Philippines, including the Mindoro Oil Spill and 2006 Guimaras oil spill. Without legislated protection and regulated shipping lanes, oil spills in the VIP will continue to occur and will continue to jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of people relying on its waters. We ask the government and concerned agencies, including the Philippine Coast Guard to urgently address this crisis and apply the learnings from the past oil spills,” Gariguez added.