Citizen-led initiative to monitor oil spill launched in Philippines

An initiative from civil society groups, affected communities, and concerned organizations to assist in monitoring and improving the availability of updates on the oil spill took off April 28, two months since the sinking of the MT Princess Empress.

‘Bantay Oil Spill’ is a citizen-led initiative that aims to provide affected communities, concerned groups, and individuals a space to report updates, images, stories, and information on the oil spill.

“As we mark the second month of this environmental disaster, the Bantay Oil Spill initiative highlights the need to amplify the voices of oil spill-impacted communities seeking justice. 60 long days have passed and with no end in sight still, we aim to let the government and responsible parties know that our communities are active, aware, and united in their fight to seek accountability and action,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Lead Convenor of Protect VIP and Director of the Social Action Center of Calapan in Oriental Mindoro.

On its first #BantayOilSpill bulletin, the groups highlight satellite data from SkyTruth, a nonprofit environmental watchdog that uses satellite imagery and remote sensing data to identify and monitor environmental threats. 

According to SkyTruth data, MT Princess Empress did not appear to broadcast an automatic identification system (AIS) signal when the vessel sank on February 28, 2023. SkyTruth also mentioned that the lack of an AIS signal could be a violation of the SOLAS Convention, an international maritime treaty that sets minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment, and operation of merchant ships. 

“It is alarming that crucial information regarding the vessel’s tracking data was never publicized or discussed in depth in investigations. Had the AIS signal from MT Princess Empress been complete and reliable, it would have been easier to identify the location of the sunken vessel earlier on and helped prevent worse repercussions. We wonder if the tanker’s owner, clients, and authorities who let it sail still sleep well at night knowing well that their negligence let this happen,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development and Co-convenor of Protect VIP.

Damage to the environment has ballooned to around P7 billion (US$125 million) and affected 26,000 fisherfolk according to Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga, while the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that damage to fisheries, including income loss has reached P3.8 billion. 

“Victims of the oil spill should not become mere statistics – these communities have lost so much already, and stand to lose more as the oil spill remains unaddressed. We urge the government to push for further investigation and hold accountable those answerable to this disaster. The Bantay Oil Spill stands as a reminder to the government and responsible parties of our people’s right to a healthy environment, and that affected peoples deserve no less than the highest standards for accountability and transparency,” said Atty. Liza Eisma-Osorio, Legal and Policy Head of Oceana.

Photo credit: iStock/ Suphanat Khumsap. Generic image of oil spill from ship.

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