Protect VIP, a coalition of communities, sectors, and environmentalists advocating for the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) and communities affected by the oil spill disputed the lifting of the fishing ban in Oriental Mindoro after water quality test results show that Pola and Pinamalayan exceeded the water standards for oil and grease.

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), a co-convenor of the Protect VIP Network, conducted a rapid assessment of water quality standards for oil and grease last July 17 in six marine protected areas (MPAs) in Pola and Pinamalayan, five of which failed the Department of Environment and Natural Standards for oil and grease levels.

According to Brent Ivan Andres, environmental scientist and Head of the Oceans, Coastal Communities, and Climate Program of CEED, the MPAs that failed the water quality standards exhibited high levels of oil and grease and is deemed polluted for the protected waters classification.

“The results showing MPAs are polluted is a big cause of concern as these areas serve as breeding grounds for fish. The interconnectivity of our waters and fish spillover tells us that fish don’t stay in one place which exposes the communities, not just in Pola and Pinamalayan, to the possibility of ingesting fish that is not safe for consumption,” said Andres.

MPAs that show high levels of oil and grease are Ranzo Fish Sanctuary and Banilad Simbrio Fish Sanctuary in Pinamalayan; and St. John the Baptist Reserve, St. Peter the Rock, and King Fisheries Reserve in Pola.

Andres also called for transparency and accessibility of the water quality testing results conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) prompted Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito “Bonz” Dolor to announce in a Facebook post on Wednesday that fishing and other activities are now open on all coasts of Oriental Mindoro.

 

Water quality test
Photos show signs of the physical presence of oil and tar balls found on the coastline of Pola, Oriental Mindoro.

“We call on BFAR to provide the actual data and release the results of their water quality tests to see if it is comprehensive enough to merit the lifting of the fishing ban. Almost five months into the oil spill, information such as the exact sites of sampling, and when and how often their tests were conducted must be accessible to guarantee the safety of our fisherfolks and the community as a whole. The results of our water quality tests corroborate the physical presence of oil traces and tar balls still along the shores of Pola that we saw this week during our on-the-ground assessment,” added Andres.

Pola Mayor Jennifer “Ina Alegre” Cruz raised the alarm on the impact of the resumption of fishing activities in Oriental Mindoro given the levels of pollution in Pinamalayan and Pola.

“Since the beginning, I have been wary of what seemed to be a premature lifting of fishing bans in other municipalities of Oriental Mindoro and the test results from CEED confirm my fears. It is worrying that the fishing ban in Pinamalayan was lifted last June 26 and yet its waters are not safe. I advised those who would resume their normal fishing operations to do so far from the polluted shoreline. My constituents have suffered enough because of the oil spill and I will not sacrifice their welfare and safety further. This puts into question the possible health impacts on my people who would resume their normal fishing operations. Why is there such a hurry in declaring the oil spill crisis over if the data shows otherwise?” said Cruz.

Father Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP, also appealed to the President a few days before the State of the Nation Address to prioritize the issue and ensure a full resolution to the oil spill.

“Mr. President, the oil spill is not over yet as confirmed by the physical sightings of oil and the water quality results. But more importantly, the aftermath of this tragedy goes beyond what the eyes can see: the loss of livelihoods, the families whose daily lives have been disrupted, and the ecological destruction of the biodiverse waters of the Verde Island Passage. Before rushing into staking victory in the oil spill crisis, we demand a concrete plan for continuous clean-up, just compensation, accountability, rehabilitation, and policy and legal reforms to protect the Verde Island Passage and prevent similar incidents in the future,” said Gariguez.

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