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Groups challenge Congress: Fast-track legal protection of VIP as oil spill hits 90th day

Protect VIP

Protect VIP, a coalition of residents, fisherfolk, youth, civil society, people’s organizations, faith-based, and labor groups, pressed for the acceleration of legal protection of the Verde Island Passage before reconvening of the Joint Hearing of the Committees on Ecology and Natural Resources on Monday.

As the hearing comes a day after the 90-day mark of the oil spill, the group challenged Congress to prove their concern for the welfare of impacted communities and the Verde Island Passage by ensuring policy reforms and legal protection of the VIP.

“The ecological nightmare brought about by the sinking of MT Princess Empress continues to unfold three months after. This is too long a time to contain and siphon the oil contents of the tanker, especially when various government agencies are mandated to prepare for such incidents. We urge our lawmakers to make this an opportune moment to come up with urgent and concrete legal protection for the Verde Island Passage,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Lead Convenor of Protect VIP and Goldman Prize Awardee.

The group also echoed their call to place the VIP under the protection of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or ENIPAS Act to ensure the ecological integrity of the rich biodiversity of VIP.

“The protection of the most biodiverse marine habitat in the world should not even be a debate. To prevent the degradation of VIP as a biodiversity hotspot and increase its resilience to climate change impacts, there is a pressing need to reduce the pressures of shipping activities and development of fossil gas on its surrounding coasts,” added Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development.

Accountability remains elusive, according to the group, as RDC Reield Marines Services, Inc. SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, and San Miguel Corporation are yet to be held accountable to the full extent provided by law–from shouldering the cost of containment, clean-up, and rehabilitation to compensating all impacted communities.

“It is an outrage how no one is still held accountable for the oil spill. No representative from San Miguel and RDC Reield Marines Services was present in past hearings. They say that the wheels of justice take time but I hope that the Congress proves us wrong by siding with the environment and communities who have suffered long enough,” added Gariguez.

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