Impacted communities, civic groups demand ban of toxic cargo at Verde Island Passage

Filipino civil society groups and representatives of fisherfolk amplified calls to prohibit all tankers carrying toxic cargo along the Verde Island Passage (VIP), to spare critical biodiversity and communities reliant on them for livelihood from risks of tragedies similar to the ongoing oil spill from happening in the future.

The call was made as the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ecology and Committee on Natural Resources jointly held a hearing in aid of legislation in relation to the oil spill caused by the February 28 sinking of the fuel tanker MT Princess Empress.

Gerry Arances, Executive Director of think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), and co-convenor of environmental advocacy group Protect VIP, said: “We’re disappointed that even as it took two long months before congress called for another investigation, there appears to be no significant progress in exacting justice for affected communities and biodiversity. Coordination among various government and responsible actors still proves to be severely lacking.

“The complexity of responses necessary in the aftermath of a disaster of this scale shows that we should not allow such incidents to happen in the first place. Tankers carrying toxic cargo like industrial oil and other fossil fuels should be banned from coursing through the VIP.”

The groups raised alarm over the high volume of fossil fuel and toxic cargo-carrying vessels allowed to ply critically biodiverse seas, especially the marine-significant Verde Island Passage, without complete and thorough assessment of these vessels’ seaworthiness right from its point of departure as seems to be the case for MT Princess Empress.

Fisherfolk group representatives who attended the hearing lament the insufficient and problematic responses so far made for communities impacted by the oil spill, including unclear and unjust processes for the delivery of compensation, inedible products in food packs, and lack of plans for long-term support for alternative livelihoods.

Dindo Melaya, convenor of oil spill-impacted fisherfolk coalition Koalisyon ng Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS), said: “It is disheartening to see the finger-pointing at the hearing earlier: the discussion of allowing MT Princess Empress to sail despite its no permit to sail between the Philippine Coast Guard and MARINA, the unclear water testing and results from Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Department of Social Welfare and Development’s recall of canned tuna after it has been distributed. 

“May our presence in the hearing serve as a reminder to the government that lives and livelihoods are at stake here. In the middle of all this, we call for a clear and long-term plan such as providing an alternative livelihood program for our fisherfolks who are yet to resume fishing activities, retrieval of the sunken tanker, and full accountability from the polluters – not insults by sending us canned tuna that are unsafe even for our dogs.” 

The groups also pointed out that the glaring absence of RDC Reield Marines Services and oil owner and charterer subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation turns the hearing unable to genuinely facilitate the exacting of accountability from polluters.

“Government agencies and members of our congress can go on with the blame game as much as they want, but there will be no justice if the polluters that caused this ecological disaster are allowed to play truant. We sincerely hope that our government will deliver the punitive actions these companies deserve, including the compensation they owe to communities whose livelihood they robbed and whose welfare they harmed. These polluters should stop sending stand-ins, and instead, stand up and face the consequences of their actions,” Arances added.

Photo credit: iStock/ Ruelito Pine. Generic photo of Filipino fisherman.

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