Climate and Environment

Groups hail DOJ move to charge tanker owner in Mindoro oil spill

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Groups hail DOJ move to charge tanker owner in Mindoro oil spill
Fishermen wearing personal protective equipment take part in a clean-up operation from the oil spill of the sunken tanker Princess Empress along the shore in Pola, in Oriental Mindoro on March 22, 2023.
AFP/Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Locals and advocacy groups welcomed Thursday the recommendation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file criminal charges against the owner of sunken MT Princess Empress and authorities, calling it an important step toward accountability.

The DOJ recommended the filing of falsification of documents charges against the officers of RDC Reield Marine Services, an employee of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and a private person, almost a year after the tanker sank off Oriental Mindoro and caused an oil spill. 

“Communities and fisherfolk affected by the oil spill have been seeking justice for almost a year. They should not be made to wait any longer. This order from the DOJ is a crucial step toward holding polluting companies and erring government authorities accountable,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of coalition Protect Verde Island Passage (VIP).

State prosecutors found that the owner of MT Princess Empress submitted falsified construction and ownership documents, which allowed the tanker to sail. 

The charges stemmed from a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation-Environment Crime Division and Mayor Jennifer Cruz of Pola, Oriental Mindoro in June 2023. The town of Pola was the most affected by the oil spill. 

“Up until now, Pola is still recovering from the aftermath of this tragedy and this is proof that the oil spill is not yet over,” Cruz said. 

“We have lost so much in terms of our economy and the livelihood of our fisherfolks but this case represents that we have not lost our will to continue pushing for our rights,” she added. 


Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) called for adequate compensation for coastal folk whose livelihoods were severely impacted for months by the oil spill. 

According to the group, the spill affected 18,000 fishers in Oriental Mindoro and its neighboring provinces. 

“Dapat ay tumbasan ng may-ari ng lumubog na barko ang nawalang kita ng mga mangingisda sa bawat buwan na tumatagas ang langis sa kanilang pangisdaan,” PAMALAKAYA said.

(The owner of the sunken vessel should compensate for the lost income of the fishermonth for each month that the oil seeped into their fishing grounds.)

Based on the research conducted by the Center for Environmental Concerns, the average income loss of each fishing family in Pola was P7,500 per month. 

‘Wake-up call’

The Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil when it sank on February 28, 2023 off Oriental Mindoro. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimated P7 billion in environmental damage based on initial calculations of potentially oil-exposed mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs.

Protect VIP’s Gariguez pointed out that the filing of charges serves as a “wake-up call” to the urgent need to protect the Verde Island Passage and the communities who depend on the marine corridor. 

Verde Island Passage, dubbed by scientists as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine biodiversity, faces threats from liquefied natural gas plants and terminals, illegal and unreported commercial shipping, and climate change. 

Gariguez also said that San Miguel Corporation must be held responsible for the oil spill. A Rappler report identified SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation, as the charterer.


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