On Thursday, World Oceans Day and the 100th day of the oil spill caused by the sinking of MT Princess Empress, Protect VIP, a network of sectoral representatives, communities, and environmentalists, staged an action at the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) calling on Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga to commence the preliminary steps required of the DENR in designating the Verde Island Passage (VIP) as a protected area.

MT Princess Empress, which continues to leak its cargo of over 900,000 liters of industrial oil, has still not been raised 100 days after its sinking, leading to fears of how much damage it will do to the fragile ecosystem of VIP. Bringing with them large cardboard letters spelling ‘100’ in which the group tied black ribbons to signify solidarity with communities and lament for biodiversity which continue to be impacted as the oil spill is prolonged.

“On a day when we are supposed to be celebrating the bounty of our oceans, we instead lament the disaster that the waters of the VIP and impacted communities suffer. Millions of Filipinos depend on the maintenance of VIP as a pristine maritime ecosystem for their livelihood. Fisherfolk and their dependents, workers in the tourist industry, and the micro- and small enterprises which in turn depend on the income from VIP, all of them can suffer great losses if this spill is not contained and something concrete is not done to prevent such tragedies from happening again,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP and Social Action Center director of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan, Mindoro.

The group raised fears that the longer it takes to retrieve all remaining and spilled oil, the longer its effects would linger in the area – as was the experience in the similarly devastating Guimaras oil spill. Failure to safeguard VIP against similar incident involving toxic cargo in the future would result in even heavier blows to the already affected health of the marine corridor.

“This was not the first oil spill in the VIP, and it is unlikely to be the last as long as toxic and dangerous cargo is ferried in these waters. Even as the oil spill remains far from resolved, the VIP continues to serve as a shipping lane for fuel tankers. New liquefied gas facilities were just opened in its vicinity, and over a dozen more are in the works, entailing a boom in fossil fuel shipping activities in the area,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and co-convenor of Protect VIP.

The advocates are seeking the declaration of VIP as a maritime protected area under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Act, or ENIPAS. They also urged the DENR to approve and promulgate guidelines to designate parts of the VIP as non-attainment areas under the two decade old Philippine Clean Water Act, given that information disclosed by the DENR itself in situational reports in the oil spill show that key pollution indicators have gone past standard thresholds in affected waters. Declaration of such non-attainment areas would mean that no new polluting activities should be allowed to prevent further degradation of the VIP’s waters.

“Secretary Yulo has already declared before that she favors the declaration of VIP as a protected area. We are here hoping that she will put her words into action. We are ready to support all measures to protect the ecological viability of VIP to preserve its riches for those who depend on it, and as a legacy for future generations of Filipinos,” said Gariguez.

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