Ilagan decries as ‘hasty and premature’ a declaration Puerto Galera is unsafe

By JKarlos Villegas

Mayor Rocky Ilagan has decried as “hasty and premature” the announcement declaring Puerto Galera as unsafe for any water activities due to the oil spill.

Ilagan said the results of the resort town’s water quality tests showing traces of contaminants were not yet conclusive.

“A hasty and premature reaction from the LGU (local government unit), without considering the advice of the members of the task force, may have an adverse effect on the general welfare of our people, which is always of paramount concern,” he said in a statement.

Governnor Bonz Dolor on Saturday told the media that Puerto Galera’s water failed in four consecutive quality tests, raising concerns about its safety for swimming and other water activities.

Dolor stopped short of asking the national government to impose a ban even as he urged the Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to provide the necessary recommendations to ensure the safety of both tourists and the local populace.

READ: Puerto Galera water fails four quality tests, raises safety concerns

Ilagan said the Office of the Civil Defense is the lead agency of the inter-agency task force “tasked to monitor the impact of the oil spill caused by MT Princess Empress” and implement measures to mitigate its adverse effects.

He said the OCD released on Saturday a report on the effects of the oil spill, indicating that 84 barangays in 10 municipalities in Oriental Mindoro were affected.

“The data presented by the OCD indicates that Puerto Galera is not included in the areas affected by the oil spill,” Ilagan said.

He said even the DOH did not think a ban should be imposed on Puerto Galera.

Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Puerto Galera

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said tests conducted showed traces of grease on the affected shorelines but they have yet to yield conclusive results.

“Nagkaroon sila ng random sampling ng test across the different areas where Puerto Galera has been included, pero hindi pa conclusive nga kaya hindi pa natin masasabi,” said Vergere.

But she urged the public to exercise caution, saying, “For now, DOH is really advising the public not to take a bath there and not to drink the water because may mga contaminants na tayo na nade-detect.”

Vergere also said that the government has yet to come up with a standard on when to impose a swimming ban.

READ: DOH on Puerto Galera ban: Not yet, but don’t swim there

Ilagan, without attributing his statement to Dolor, said his office considered it “prudent to maintain the status quo” and await the official positions of the DOH, DENR, and the inter-agency task force. This is to verify the current data on the oil spill and coordinate appropriate measures to address the incident, he added.

Local tourism data shows that from April 3 to 10, 2023, Puerto Galera received a total of 18,757 tourists, with the top sources of foreign visitors during this period being China, South Korea, the United States, Japan, and Germany.

Since the sinking in February of MT Princess Empress while carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel off the coast of Naujan, about 66 tourist sites have been affected by the environmental disaster, impacting 1,400 tourism workers.

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