• Clear and present danger

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    A little past midnight on Sunday, June 23, people living on the Pasig River in Santa Ana were awakened by an overpowering stench—so bad that some of them were later brought to the hospital for treatment.

    The toxic fume was caused by 15,000 liters of used oil that leaked to the river from a tank in an oil depot that had been operating without a permit for the past two decades.

    Two decades? Hard to believe, but that was what Richard Zacarias of the License Office of Manila City Hall told reporters. He said nobody had ever conducted an inspection to determine what the owner, L&M Marketing, was up to.

    Oh, the tanks are there for all to see, all 40 of them, but maybe they are used to store something innocuous like, say, rose essence for the perfume industry?

    From time to time newspapers run stories about the PNP and City Hall arresting girls caught dancing in the nude in bars and nightclubs. If the authorities are as strict in enforcing laws to ensure our health and safety as they are in saving us from sin of the flesh, we’d be the luckiest people on Planet Earth.

    As soon as the story broke out everybody got into the act.

    Secretary to the Mayor Rafaelito Garayblas ordered the closure of the depot for discharging waste into the river, in violation, he told us, of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. PNP Station Commander Remigio Sedanto, who by the way holds office just across the depot, posted guards to prevent the company from resuming operation.

    It was Garayblas, by the way, who in September last year recommended that Mayor Alfredo Lim veto the ordinance calling for the closure of the Pandacan Oil Depot a little further down the river for fear that the closure might create the impression that the city was not business friendly. He did as told.

    Even Administrator Neric Acosta of far away Laguna Lake Development Authority, weighs in on the issue, intoning with all the authority he could muster that the depot should be relocated away from centers of population.

    Which is just as well. Industrial wastes, as every expert will tell you, are more dangerous than bio-wastes—and longer lasting.

    But if there is something that pose a clear and present danger to city residents, it is the Pandacan Oil Depot. It contains not bunker oil but 300 million liters of gasoline.

    The proposal has been on the table for years now, but the big oil players, who own the depot, lobby City Hall to defer the relocation, and, apparently, they’re good at it. Nobody knows if they have persuaded government officials by the power of their argument or with something else.

    For public consumption, these transnational corporations argue that the cost of relocation would run into millions if not billions of pesos, and, they warn us, the price of gasoline per liter would increase proportionately.

    Since when did these corporations start caring for their customers?

    That’s another story, though. The fact is, while the government dithers, terrorists of all stripes may be drawing up plans to set off a bomb that would incinerate people and structures within a 20 kilometer radius and spread poison even further away.

    The government is hell-bent on evicting squatters from riverbanks on the pretext that they despoil the waterways with their garbage.

    If only the government could demonstrate the same passion with regards to industrial plants that have expropriated practically the entire length of the river—and put all of us at risk.

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