Climate and Environment

Lawyers, environmentalists demand transparency from gov't, firms behind oil spill

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Lawyers, environmentalists demand transparency from gov't, firms behind oil spill
Coast guard personnel and volunteer residents of Brgy. Buhay na Tubig use absorbent pads to remove oil from rocks.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — The government and the companies responsible for the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro should be completely transparent about the incident's impacts and the actions being done to mitigate the disaster, lawyers and environment advocates said.

In a statement released on Monday, concerned lawyers called for transparency and accountability in the conduct of investigation into the oil spill, and for full disclosure of parties involved in the incident.

They said that critical details only finally came to light during a Senate panel inquiry conducted more than two weeks after the MT Princess Empress sank off Naujan town in Oriental Mindoro and leaked oil into the sea.

The lawyers also noted the inconsistent statements from government agencies and vessel owner RDC Reield Marine Services on operations of MT Princess Empress and its state as well as the incomplete information on the owner of the oil and the kind of oils present in the tanker.

Only at the Senate hearing

At the Senate hearing last week, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said that MT Princess Empress had no permit to operate, but hours later, the Philippine Coast Guard posted on social media a document showing the vessel had an approved certificate of public convenience (CPC). 

The Coast Guard, the following day, however said it is investigating the authenticity of the permit presented to its personnel to allow MT Princess Empress to sail at least four times before it sank off the waters of Oriental Mindoro.

On Monday, MARINA said its National Capital Region office has yet to issue an amended CPC.

“The public has the right to know what happened, who is responsible, what measures are being taken to address the extensive damage caused by the oil spill, including the posting of a bond on the part of the polluters to cover containment and clean-up costs and damages estimates thus far, and what punitive actions will be pursued to deter tragic and avoidable instances like this in the future,” the lawyers said.

"To date, relevant government agencies have still not confirmed the report that it is a San Miguel Corporation subsidiary, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, that [chartered] the sunken vessel,” they added.

Among the signatories of the statement were lawyers Gloria Estenzo-Ramos and Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio of Oceana, Antonio La Viña of Manila Observatory, Chel Diokno, Grizelda Mayo-Anda of Environmental Legal Assistance Center and Efenita Taqueban of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines.


In a separate statement, environmental groups Greenpeace Philippines, Oceana, and Center for Energy, Ecology and Development called for a sustained investigation into the cause and accountabilities of companies responsible for the oil spill, and the measures being taken by responsible government agencies.

They said that the owner and the charterer should be “fully held accountable and immediately called to issue a cash bond that can already cover costs for containment, mechanical removal of the oil, damages to communities, and commitments for long-term rehabilitation for affected communities and ecosystems.”

The organizations also called on the government to implement long-term solutions to protect critical marine and coastal biodiversity and prevent more instances of oil spills in the future.

These include imposing strict liability to charterers for instances of pollution under the Oil Pollution Compensation Act. Under the law, charterers are exempted from claims for compensation for pollution damage.

The groups also urged the government to integrate the Verde Island Passage into the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).

The Coast Guard on Monday reported that the oil spilled by the sunken tanker has reached the shores of Isla Verde along the marine biodiversity-rich Verde Island Passage (VIP), which is considered by scientists as the center of the world’s marine biodiversity.

The marine corridor is home to 1,700 fish species, 300 coral species and 36 marine protected areas. Two million people, including fishermen and tourism workers, also depend on VIP.

READGas expansion around Verde Island Passage increases risk of another oil spill — groups

Violation of people’s rights

“The continuing pollution of our waters and destruction of critical marine habitats are clear violations of the people's constitutional right to a clean, healthy and balanced ecology, and those responsible must be held accountable for their actions, omissions and negligence,” the lawyers said.

The 1987 Constitution holds that “the State shall protect and advance the right of people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly recognized that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.

“We urge the government to take swift and decisive action to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy and balanced ecology is upheld and protected for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos,” the lawyers said.

Authorities have yet to recover the sunken tanker and contain the oil spill that has affected more than 143,000 people so far. The incident has also severely disrupted the livelihood of over 13,000 fishers.

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