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From a paradise in peril to a paradise protected

Protect VIP


Exactly a year ago, industrial oil from the capsized MT Princess Empress began to taint the waters of the Verde Island Passage (VIP). The February 2023 oil spill is the worst of its kind to hit this critically biodiverse marine corridor. It harmed entire ecosystems, robbed over twenty thousand fisherfolk of their livelihood leading to billions in losses, endangered food sovereignty and health, and disrupted the overall well-being of entire communities.

But the oil spill was no mere accident. It is the result of negligence by authorities who failed to ensure the safety of our seas and dependent communities and by fossil fuel and shipping companies who gamble with our precious ecosystems by subjecting them to toxic pollution.

Protect VIP is in solidarity with oil spill-affected communities as they strive to recover from this crisis. We stand, too, by our demand for justice and action that have yet to be delivered.

Affected communities continue to suffer injustice long after the tanker stopped leaking its toxic cargo, as compensation that fully takes the damages they suffered into account remains elusive. In the hard-hit town of Pola, for example, residents lament that only over 600 of at least 4,000 fisherfolk who filed claims have been compensated. A recent independent science-based valuation estimates that polluters owe at least Php 41 billion to account for damages caused by the oil spill, yet compensation amounting to much lower government estimates has yet to see the light of day.

RDC Reield Marine Services and San Miguel Corporation, the polluting companies behind the spill, and government authorities whose negligence led to the tragic incident must be held accountable and issue the reparation that victims deserve. The recent order by the Department of Justice to file criminal charges against said polluters and erring authorities affirms the injustice suffered by impacted communities and the VIP.

The damage we saw is also a clear illustration of the incompatibility of fossil fuel proliferation to our biodiversity-rich yet vulnerable seas, and its threat to all communities and our climate-vulnerable country as a whole. There can be no assurance that no more oil spills will plague the VIP in the future, as toxic cargo continues to be ferried in it and as fossil fuel shipping activities are bound to increase from the massive expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) power and import facilities in Batangas. Fossil fuels must not be allowed to destroy people’s livelihoods and well-being, and the implementation of strict standards and restrictions in the shipping of toxic cargo will be a critical first step – alongside ending all plans to expand LNG in the VIP, and ensuring a full and just phaseout of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Finally, we emphasize that the oil spill is a wake-up call to the inadequate protection that the VIP has long suffered despite its significance as the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. This is a lesson we cannot fail to learn. Alongside the need to ensure a comprehensive rehabilitation plan, it is high time for the VIP to be afforded the strongest legal protection – particularly through its designation as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System, with empowered communities and fisherfolk leading its management and preservation.

It is these that can assure genuine and sustained recovery for affected communities and ecosystems in the VIP, and finally turn the VIP from a paradise in peril to a paradise protected.

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