Climate and Environment

Mindoro MPAs still exceed grease limits nearly a year after oil spill — study

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Mindoro MPAs still exceed grease limits nearly a year after oil spill � study
The Naujan, Oriental Mindoro oil spill has already reached Caluya, Antique, according to reports by the Philippine Coast Guard, March 4, 2023.
Released / Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — Residents and environmental advocates renewed their call for accountability and legal protection for the Verde Island Passage (VIP) as oil and grease levels remained high in several protected areas nearly a year after the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.

While there was a decrease in oil and grease levels from the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development's (CEED) assessments in July and September 2023, observed concentrations still exceeded the standards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) .

According to CEED's recent study released Thursday, three marine protected areas (MPAs) in the towns of Calapan, Naujan and Mansalay did not meet the DENR's standards for oil and grease. 

These include B. Del Mundo-Fish Sanctuary, Tuhod Fish Sanctuary, and Salong-Calero Seagrass and Coral MPA. 

The assessment also found that four out of six MPAs in Pinamalayan and Pola failed the water quality standards: Banilad-Simborio Fish Sanctuary, Song of the Sea, King Fisher Marine Reserve and St. John the Baptist Fish Sanctuary. 

"Based on our recent findings, the majority of the affected waters are still reeling from the effects of the oil spill last year, and if not properly addressed, this can bring adverse effects to the fishing industry in the VIP and health hazards to its communities," said Ivan Andres, deputy head of CEED's research and policy program. 

CEED's latest assessment was conducted in two phases: November 2023 in Calapan, Naujan and Mansalay, and last month in Pinamalayan and Pola.

Accountability, protection

On Feb. 28, 2023, tanker MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, sank off Naujan town, causing a massive oil spill. 

The spill affected tens of thousands of fishers in Oriental Mindoro and its neighboring provinces. The initial environmental damage was estimated at P7 billion, with oil impacting mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the Protect VIP, stressed that the declining water quality in the marine area demonstrates the need to hold polluters accountable and provide just compensation for affected residents.

"The water quality results speak volumes about how this environmental disaster still clings to the waters of VIP a year later and the call for justice shall remain," Gariguez said. 

Last week, the Department of Justice (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. 

Gariguez also reiterated the call to declare the VIP as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems (ENIPAS) Act to limit destructive industries from proliferating around 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. 

In September, Marcial Amaro, director of the DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau, said the agency is leading the push to declare VIP as a legally protected landscape. He, however, stressed that all relevant agencies must agree with the proposal.

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