President Benigno Aquino 3rd should show the public that he is not ‘playing favorites’ with so-called ‘influential’ business interests by equally enforcing sanctions on Petron Corporation for the recent massive oil spill—just as his administration did with other big companies tagged for pollution violations.
For instance, the country’s biggest miner, Philex Mining Corp., was fined P1.034-billion last September 2012 by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje after the tailings pond of company’s Pacdal mine in Itogon, Benguet accidentally discharged several million tons of waste water and sediment into an adjacent creek at the height of typhoon Gener.
Philex had to cough up another P3-billion to clean up and rehabilitate the affected tributaries in Benguet and beyond, which thankfully are now bearing fruit.
Recent tests conducted by the DENR’s Joint Multipartite Monitoring Team (JMMT) in the tributaries near Pacdal mines, including Balog creek and Agno River, San Roque Dam and all the way downstream to the irrigation canals of the National Irrigation Administration in San Manuel, Pangasinan, showed water quality in these areas well below the effluent and toxicity standards set by the government.
Meanwhile, the tissue samples taken from fish in Balog Creek and downstream Agno River also showed amounts of accumulated heavy metals—mercury, cadmium, lead, and copper—below the limits set by European Union (EU) regulations. Results for arsenic were also lower than the limit set by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), making the fish fit for human consumption.
Similar in scale to the Pacdal mine incident, the Petron oil spill spewed an estimated 500,000 liters of diesel fuel into the waters of Manila Bay. Stretching more than 300 square kilometers, the oil slick polluted the waters and coastline of four Cavite towns— Rosario, Naic, Tanza and Ternate—shutting down the livelihood of some 40,000 people dependent on the communities’ vital fishing industry.
So the question being asked by readers and colleagues alike is: Will the Aquino administration be as tough in imposing the punitive measures prescribed by our anti-pollution laws when it comes to the country’s biggest oil retailer?
The oil spill, which some environmental groups claim is one of the worst environmental disasters to hit the country, was traced by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Marine Environmental Command’s chief, Commodore Joel Garcia, to a leaking submerged pipe of Petron in its Rosario, Cavite terminal. The PCG finding was confirmed by local officials of Rosario, Cavite after its diver took video footage of a large gash in Petron’s underwater pipeline.
At first, Petron tried to foil the investigation by barring PCG personnel from taking oil and water samples from its Rosario fuel depot. The oil giant also hastily denied any responsibility for the oil spill claiming that its underwater pipeline was already sealed at the time of the incident.
But with the evidence piling up, Petron was forced to backpedal four days later, finally admitting that its pipeline had indeed been the source of the massive oil leak and promising to “pursue proper remediation and clean-up of the affected areas.”
However, Petron’s apparent reluctance to come clean has many folks doubting whether it will live up to its promises without forceful government action, especially since this isn’t the first time that the oil giant was involved in a major oil spill.
According to environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE), in 2006, Petron’s contracted oil tanker, M/T Solar 1 sank off the coast of Guimaras and Negros Islands, causing what many consider as the worst oil spill in the country.
More than 500,000 liters of heavy bunker fuel poured into the gulf while another 1.5 million liters had to be siphoned off the sunken vessel. The oil slick rampaged through some 300 kilometers of Guimaras coastline, reaching the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental. The spill also damaged several mangrove reserves and marine sanctuaries.
“Exactly seven years after the worst maritime oil disaster in the Philippines caused by Petron in the province of Guimaras, the same oil giant has caused a repeat performance in Manila Bay with yet another oil spill affecting several towns in Cavite province. It’s the same story again: fish and shellfish kills, affected coral reefs, and immediate impact on the health and livelihood of coastal communities,” the group said.
It seems that in the Guimaras oil spill tragedy, Petron had gotten away with no more than a gentle rap on the knuckles. Millions of taxpayer pesos were spent on the oil spill clean-up operations. And over a thousand Guimareños hit hardest by the oil spill have yet to receive any compensation from Petron.
Let’s hope the Aquino administration doesn’t let Petron get off so easily this time. Baka mamihasa.