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LRay urges DENR to create risk management plan for oil spill

March 11, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 255 views

A HOUSE leader is calling on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to take decisive steps to speed up not only the cleanup of 800,000 liters of industrial fuel leaked last month by a sunken tanker off Oriental Mindoro but also the crafting of a risk management strategy to contain the environmental, economic and health impacts of the oil spill on possibly five or six provinces.

Camarines Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte pointed out that while the actual cleanup might be completed before the year is over, environmental groups have warned that the ecological, economic, social, and health impacts of the oil spill will likely be felt for decades.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has also ordered the DENR to speed up the oil spill cleanup in Oriental Mindoro, and DENR Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said her office is looking at possibly tapping the participants of this year’s RP-US Balikatan exercises to help in the cleanup.

Villafuerte supported the DENR’s plan to tap Balikatan participant-soldiers and said the Department should harness as well for the oil slick cleanup drives countries like Japan and South Korea that have offered to help remove the smudge, which, said Yulo-Loyzaga, is being discharged from the sunken vessel at a rate of 35,000 to 50,000 liters a day.

“Alongside taking the lead in speeding up the multisectoral cleanup drive to prevent the further spread of the oil slick believed to be the biggest in recent years, the DENR would do well to similarly fast-track its crafting of a mid- to long-term risk management strategy to cushion the impact of the oil slick on marine biodiversity, the health and livelihoods of fishermen and other people in the affected coastal communities, and the tourism business in Oriental Mindoro and possibly as many as four or five more provinces,” Villafuerte said.

“It’s bad enough that a fifth of an estimated 2.7 million tons of plastic waste generated annually in our country ends up in the ocean,” Villafuerte said. “Aquatic pollution will only get worse with the spillage of 800,000 liters of emulsified black oil by the sunken MV Princess Empress, which has put at risk an estimated 36,000 hectares (ha) of coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds,” Villafuerte, a former CamSur governor, said.

Depending on its trajectory, the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) believed the smudge leaked by the sunken tanker might affect about 20,000 ha of coral reefs; 9,900 ha of mangroves; and 6,000 ha of seagrass in Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Antique and Palawan.

Hence, he said, “the urgency for the DENR to put on the fast-track it’s crafting of a mid- to long-term risk management strategy to prevent the smudge from spreading to coastal municipalities in more provinces and containing the oil spill’s impact on the environment, on human health, and on tourism and the economies of the affected areas.”

Villafuerte is one of the lead authors of Republic Act (RA) 11898 or the “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Act of 2022,” which aims to check plastic pollution by making producers responsible for the proper disposition, recycling or re-use of their plastic products after these been sold to and used by consumers.

Non-recycled plastic products harm ocean life because these non-biodegradable goods pollute the seas and other waterways and kill marine life. Plastic products also aggravate global warming because they emit greenhouse gases when they decompose.

The motor tanker MV Princess Empress sank last Feb. 28 off Naujan in Oriental Mindoro, leaking 800,000 liters of industrial fuel in a spill, initially reported as 25 kilometers (km) long and 500 meters wide, that is one of the worst leakages in the country in recent history.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that the tanker sank last Feb. 28 after encountering engine trouble while on its way from Bataan to Iloilo.

As the local DENR’s Environment Management Bureau (EMB) plus the PCG, local government units (LGUs), and other sectors conducted shoreline cleanup drives, the Department said it had created “Task Force Naujan Oil Spill” to immediately deal with the emergency situation and draw up a mid- to long-term strategy for the affected areas.

Yulo-Loyzaga said the UP-MSI is helping her office assess the immediate actions necessary to protect mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs in the provinces that can potentially be affected by the oil spill.

For now, the oil slick has affected Naujan and other coastal towns in Oriental Mindoro as well as some parts of Palawan and Antique. It might also affect Romblon.

Yulo-Loyzaga told the President in a meeting at the Palace that the spill has reached Cuyo Island in Palawan and has continued to spread to Semirara Island in Antique.

Certain quarters fear the smudge from the capsized tanker might even reach Boracay Island in Malay town in Antique’s neighboring province of Aklan.

Although there was no report yet before the weekend that the spill has reached Boracay, the concerned LGUs have been monitoring the situation closely and started putting up oil spill booms or barriers.