Climate and Environment

Protected area designation, non-attainment area guidelines for oil spill-hit VIP sought

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Protected area designation, non-attainment area guidelines for oil spill-hit VIP sought
Protect VIP Network stages an action at the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on June 8, 2023 during the commemoration of the World Oceans Day and the 100th day of the oil spill caused by the sinking of MT Princess Empress
Protect VIP Network

MANILA, Philippines — Environment advocates and locals sought for the declaration of the Verde Island Passage—the marine corridor threatened by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro—as a legislated protected area on World Oceans Day.

Parts of VIP are currently marine protected areas, but Protect VIP Network wants the entire marine corridor to be declared a maritime protected area under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Act.

“[Environment] Secretary Antonia Loyzaga 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,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP and Social Action Center director of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan.

The advocates also urged the DENR to approve and promulgate guidelines to designate parts of the VIP as non-attainment areas under the Clean Water Act. The DENR can designate water bodies where specific pollutants have already exceeded water quality guidelines as non-attainment areas.

Protect VIP said the declaration of non-attainment areas would mean that no polluting activities should be permitted to prevent the further degradation of marine area’s waters.

VIP is dubbed as the “Amazon of the oceans” as it is home to more than 300 coral species, 170 fish species, and thousands of marine organisms such as sharks and turtles. It also supports the livelihoods of over two million people.

100 days

One hundred days have passed since the MT Princess Empress, which was loaded with 900,000 of industrial oil, sank in rough seas, affecting over 194,000 people in Southern Luzon and Western Visayas. Initial estimates by the DENR put the environmental damage caused by the oil spill at P7 billion.

It was only on Tuesday when the National Bureau of Investigation filed 18 counts each of falsification and perjury raps against 35 individuals, which include owners and officers of RDC Reield Marine Services as well as officials of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority.

They were found to have falsified the vessel’s certificate of public convenience to allow it to sail 18 times from December 2022 until it sank on February 28.

But Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the filing of complaints “does not meet the standards for environmental justice.”

“In the aftermath of an environmental disaster, various steps must be taken to ensure that justice prevails. These include holding all those responsible accountable, providing full reparation and compensation to affected communities, restoring the environment and the lives of community members, and implementing strong mechanisms to prevent future disasters,” the group said.  

It also urged the government to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the losses suffered by the affected communities.

Work to recover the remaining oil from the MT Princess Empress that sank off Oriental Mindoro began in late May and may last for a month, according to PCG.

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