The damage from the oil spill of a sunken tanker in Oriental Mindoro is “extensive” and will be felt for decades, the environmental group Oceana Philippines warned Thursday.
This developed as the United States and South Korea offered to send more aid and Japan sent a team of oil removal and control experts that would help in the ongoing cleanup that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said would take the government about four months to clean up.
That timetable, however, is “unrealistic” and about two months short at least, said lawyer Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio, legal and policy director of Oceana Philippines.
“I think the realistic (timetable) would be 6 months to a year,” Osorio told ANC’s “Headstart,” adding that mangroves, seagrasses, and corals in the area “will take years to recover” from the tragedy.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is planning to seek the help of the participants in the 2023 Balikatan military exercises for the cleanup drives in areas affected by the oil spill, the Presidential Communications Office said.
Environment Secretary Antonia Loyzaga, in a meeting with President Marcos on Wednesday, said her agency would work with the US Embassy “to explore the possibility of deploying the participants of the joint military drills,” as part of efforts for cleanup and reduction of the impact of the oil spill incident.
Loyzaga added that the DENR has coordinated with the provincial local government units, the sunken vessel’s owner, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development for potential additional sources of funds for the cash-for-work program that will be given to affected residents.
Thousands of workers displaced by the oil spill will be giventemporary jobs under the emergency employment program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), with over P100 million earmarked for the cash-for-work tack.
“Around 10,000 individuals will be expected as beneficiaries,” Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma said in a phone interview on Thursday with the Philippine News Agency, adding DOLE expected to come up with the final list of beneficiaries soon.
Laguesma said ambulant and market stall fish vendors and employees of beach resorts will also be given assistance.
The humanitarian and social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will also send aid to residents affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.
Calapan, Oriental Mindoro’s Diocesan Social Action Center (DSAC) director Fr. Edwin Gariguez said the NASSA/Caritas Philippines would extend assistance to 250 families.
The Lipa Archdiocesan Social Action Commission (LASAC) and the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) will also provide food items and emergency assistance.
Meanwhile, the oil slick has reached as far south as Cuyo Island in Palawan province, a TV Patrol report said last night, apart from affecting beaches in Mindoro and Antique, and threatening to reach tourist gem Boracay Island.
The motor tanker Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, sank near the Verde Island Passage off Mindoro—one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on the planet.
“With this tragedy that has happened, the damage that it will cost to this ecologically sensitive area would be felt for decades,” Eisma-Osorio stressed.
Sen. Cynthia A. Villar filed Senate Resolution No. 537 on Thursday to investigate the oil spill from the sunken tanker that she said “has been causing massive damage to the marine ecosystem and biodiversity, and even threatening the world-renowned Boracay Island.”
Villar’s measure wants to inquire into the negative impact of the oil spill, ecologically and economically. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Although the DENR, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) have made their assessments of the incident, Villar noted no concrete action to contain the oil spill has been initiated.
Residents of Palo, Oriental Mindoro and Caluya, Antique were forced to bury hundreds of barrels of oil they collected on their beaches into the sand to ward off the sickening smell that left most islanders sick with various ailments, the TV Patrol report showed.
Hectares of seaweed farms between Mindoro and Antique were also ruined by the spill – one of their key sources of livelihood apart from fishing, residents added
Based on the monitoring report of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), nine out of the 13 towns in Oriental Mindoro have been affected by the oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress, while around 10,362 families or 48,885 people were affected, Villar noted.
“Apart from the environmental damage to the marine ecosystem, biodiversity, fisheries, and tourism, the livelihood and health of the people in the area are already adversely affected by the said oil spill,” she added.
In a statement, the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines said the eight-man Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) Expert Team arriving today will consist of members from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and its embassy in the Philippines.
They will assist local authorities in conducting disaster surveys and will supervise and provide counsel to the ongoing removal and control of the leak from the sunken motor tanker off Naujan town.
“While the Philippine Coast Guard, which received support for capacity enhancement from the JCG, is principally leading response activities of oil removal and control, the Philippine Government has made a request to the Government of Japan to dispatch experts who can supervise the activities,” the Embassy said.
“Japan, in light of its amicable relations with the Philippines, has made the decision to dispatch the JDR Expert Team to the Philippines on humanitarian grounds and for marine environment conservation.”
“Japan hopes that this assistance contributes to the prevention of further marine contamination and to the restoration of the marine environment, and intends to continue working closely with the Philippines,” it added.
Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhiko Koshikawa first announced on Wednesday evening that his country would be sending the JDR team to the country for the oil leak cleanup.
MT Princess Empress sank due to strong waves on February 28. All 20 people on board were rescued.
The DENR previously said more than 2,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass can be potentially affected by the oil spill. Water samples from several areas in Oriental Mindoro likewise failed their water quality test.