• A really big footprint

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    So Petron Corporation has owned up to the oil spill disaster. It is a disaster all right, with half a million diesel fuel spreading to 30 fishing villages in Rosario, Naic, Tanza, and Ternate.

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    Speaking of carbon footprint, this corporation has left behind a really big one. It is not the first time it has done so, nor will it be the last, unless called to account.

    Petron was reluctant at first to claim responsibility. It was only when divers of the Philippine Coast Guard pinpointed the leak to have come from its underwater pipeline did the company announce its intentions to extend assistance.

    To what extent Petron will go in that direction is unclear. Will it salve its corporate conscience by distributing bags of groceries in the affected communities?

    A mere offer of assistance just isn’t enough. It sounds very much like the corporation is doing the people a favor by giving them alms, when what it ought to do is compensate them for the loss of their livelihood.

    The Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have mobilized their forces to contain the damage, and so far they’ve been successful at it.

    The question now is, will the government send Petron the bill? It looks like the full cost will be borne once again by the government, which is to say the people.

    In 2006, a Petron oil tanker spilled half a million crude oil on the coast of Guimaras, plunging the island into a state of calamity. Suddenly hunger stalked fishermen and their families, with marine sanctuaries and mangrove forests smothered with a sticky substance, killing the fish, crabs, and crustaceans that lived and spawned there. The waves dispersed the goo to the nearby provinces of Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

    Did Petron lift a finger? The government had to clean up the mess, and the people were left to fend for themselves.

    Now we’re seeing a repeat of that corporation shirking its corporate responsibility. At least that’s the signal we’re getting from the government.

    The other day Governor John Vic Remulla tried to downplay the incident, saying the diesel fuel had already evaporated. He announced he would eat fish caught in Cavite to show the incident had not done any lasting damage to the province’s fishing ground.

    First of all, it is a mere public relations gimmick. Besides, wouldn’t it be more in keeping with the governor’s responsibility to demand that the corporation pay for the cost of the cleanup and compensate his constituents who have been directly affected by the disaster?

    It was not the first time Petron has fouled up the province’s coastal waters. Two years ago the underwater pipeline of the corporation’s oil depot in Rosario, Cavite, spilled some oil into the sea.

    Perhaps the governor is taking a cue from the higher-ups. It happened in Guimaras. It will happen again.

    Petron wouldn’t be able to walk away so easily in another country, the United States for instance.

    In March 1989, Exxon Valdez spilled 53.1 million liters of crude oil off the Alaskan coast. The corporation that owned the supertanker, upon orders of the courts, shouldered the $2 billion cleanup cost. It also spent $1 billion to settle civil and criminal charges and paid $507.5 million in punitive damages.

    Of course, the Petron diesel spill pales in comparison. However, it is duty-bound, like Exxon Valdez, to make a restitution, commensurate to the damage it has inflicted on the environment.

    The suit against Exxon Valdez was filed in behalf of 38,000 litigants. Nobody is looking after the interest of the people of Cavite.

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