Fisherfolk stage protest, urge swift action on Mindoro oil spill

Move quickly. Move accurately. 

Fisherfolk bearing the brunt of the oil spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress gathered at “ground zero” and called on the government to take swift and decisive action to address the crisis.

“On Earth Day, we gather together to lament the national government’s inadequacy on one of the worst ecological disasters our country has faced,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP).

The call was made Saturday in Pola during a gathering led by the Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisdang Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS) and groups under the banner of Protect Verde Island Passage to mark Earth Day on Saturday. It was hosted by Pola’s Office of the Mayor.

“We ask the government to move quickly and move correctly on this matter, or more communities and families will be affected. The longer this crisis lasts, the longer it will take for nature to heal,” said Gariguez, who is also the Catholic Church’s Social Action Center director of Calapan.

The MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan in February due to engine trouble, causing a massive oil spill that has so far affected more than 93,000 people in 205 barangays in Mimaropa, Calabarzon and Western Visayas regions.

MORE: Oil spill affects over 193,000 people in Oriental Mindoro–NDRRMC

As of Saturday, the oil slick has impacted a total of 24,698 fisherfolk and caused an estimated P3.9 billion in damage to agriculture. A fishing ban remains in effect in the waters off nine towns in Oriental Mindoro.

“Hindi pa rin makapangisda ang libu-libo sa amin dahil nilalason ng langis ang karagatan, hindi sapat ang natatamong tulong pangkabuhayan para sa matiyak ang pang-araw-araw na pangangailangan ng mga apektadong komunidad, at hindi pa rin nabibigyan ng katarungan ang mga biktima ng trahedyang ito,” said Dindo Melaya, convenor of KMAOS.

MORE: Fishing ban in 9 Mindoro towns stays–BFAR

Fisherfolk and groups affected by the oil spill marked Earth Day in Pola, considered as the ground zero of the incident. (Photo: Protect VIP)

He acknowledged that the oil spill would have a long-term effect, stressing that the consequences for the fishing industry and the people who rely on it are difficult to measure. 

“Ang langis na tumagas na sa ating karagatan ay hindi basta-basta mawawala. Pangmatagalan ang kinakailangang aksyon para pahilumin ang mga isda, bahura, at tubig ng mga karagatan namin lalo na ng VIP, at hindi maaaring maliitin ang tindi nito,” Melaya said. 

The spill, which has leaked an estimated 900,000 liters of industrial oil into the Verde Island Passage, is one of the worst ecological disasters that the Philippines has faced. The area is a center of biodiversity and the source of livelihood for two million Filipinos. 

“MT Princess Empress is still in the bottom of the sea, the spill has not been contained, reparations have yet to be made, and most importantly, there is still no mention of who would be brought to justice for the damage done,” said Gariguez.

The program, dubbed “Lakbay para sa Inang Kalikasan,” featured a short skit led by KMAOS in which fisherfolk reenacted the struggles they have been forced to face in nearly two months since the oil spill began, using fishing tools damaged by the oil spill to show how their livelihood has been disrupted.

“Ang mantsa ng langis sa kagamitan ng mga mangingisda ay tanda ng pagkasirang dulot ng oil spill,” said Melaya.

Earth Day is marked every year on April 22 to raise the level of awareness on the gravity of environmental degradation and destruction in the country that threatens the very quality of life of many Filipinos.

Fisherfolk who lost their source of income due to the oil spill are now participating in cash-for-work programs to help clear oil slicks along the shores of Pola. (Photo: Center of Energy, Ecology, and Development)

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