It was an oil spill that inspired the first Earth Day in 1969, when 11.4 million liters of crude oil was spilled in the waters of Santa Barbara in the United States. The devastation it caused sparked a global call for action for the protection of the Earth. More than fifty years later, another oil spill is wreaking havoc over our very own waters.
Earth Day 2023 comes almost 2 months since MT Princess Empress sank in the waters of Oriental Mindoro – two months of intensifying agony for fisherfolk, coastal communities, tourism workers, and other adjacent sectors who are robbed of their livelihood and exposed to continuing harm from pollution. Damage to the fisheries industry and loss of income affected by the oil spill has reportedly already reached nearly 1 billion pesos, and the most affected by this are the Filipino fisherfolk groups who are among the poorest sectors in the country.
The degradation and destruction now forced by the oil spill on marine and coastal environments along the Verde Island Passage and surrounding seas has yet to be fully understood. A joint statement by the Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources showed that out of the 35 water sampling stations in Puerto Galera, the major tourist and economic drive of the province, only 9 met the water quality guidelines and the remaining stations showed poor quality. With that, we demand that the government take the lead in securing scientific bases to guide the restoration of acceptable water quality standards, and to ensure that the right of residents, tourists, fisherfolk, and adjacent sectors to a safe and healthy environment is protected.
We also raise alarm over the ongoing claims caravan, which reportedly would take roughly 3-6 months before the victims get paid after filling up the claims forms. Affected individuals are also asked to sign a quit claim for them not to sue the ship owner – a practice which only takes away the urgency of affected communities’ ability to immediately access compensation for their disrupted livelihoods. Moreover, there is no clarity as to how the valuation of compensation allotted to claimants takes place, especially as damages are expected to continue rising in terms of value as the oil spill and its impacts are prolonged. There should be a swift and just provision of financial needs to the victims of the oil spill for their daily sustenance and basic necessities, including the promotion of alternative livelihoods that will allow affected families to access a stable source of income amid this disaster.
There are still no concrete actions to pursue full accountability of the tanker owner, the charterer, and the owner of the oil. The government should pursue charges against them for being responsible for polluting the seas. Moreover, justice should be served to the affected thriving coastal ecosystems and to the communities whose lives were negatively impacted by the oil spill. The polluters must pay for all of the damages that were done and seek immediate rehabilitation and recovery responses.
With this, the Stop the Oil Spill, Save Our Seas (SOS), reiterate our demands to the government and involved agencies to immediately contain the oil spill and clean up all of the affected coastal provinces; ensure reparations to the damages that were incurred including food security, livelihood, health, and economic welfare of the communities; and ultimately hold polluters accountable. We also urgently call for swift rehabilitation efforts to promote recovery to the affected communities and ecologies, and raise the protection afforded to our biodiverse seas.
We are amplifying the calls of the communities to be compensated according to proper valuation and we are calling for the full protection of the Verde Island Passage to avoid further spills and other man-made hazards that could potentially harm it.