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Guimaras oil spill

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Location of Guimaras in the Philippines
Location of Guimaras in the Philippines

The Guimaras oil spill is an ongoing environmental and economic disaster that started on 11 August 2006. It is dubbed as the worst oil spill the Philippines had ever seen.[1]



The oil tanker M/T Solar I, carrying two million litres of tanker fuel, sank on August 11, 2006 at the Guimaras Strait off the coast of the Guimaras and Negros Occidental provinces, causing 200,000 litres of oil to pour into the strait.[2]Oil spill in Guimaras

A lot has already been reported and said about the recent oil spill which has now adversely affected marine sanctuaries and mangrove reserves in three out of five municipalities in Guimaras Island and reached the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental. It is heartbreaking that the oil spill occurred in the Visayas Sea which is considered a rich fishing ground that supplies most of the fisheries demand for the entire country. (NDCC, August 2006) Oil spills inhibit the growth of phytoplankton which are the primary source of food for all marine life (Castro and Huber, 2000). Oil clogs the gills of fishes and the filtering structure of benthic organisms such as oysters and clams. Feeding and reproduction are also hindered and these organisms become susceptible to diseases. Its effects on corals are swollen tissues, excessive production of mucus and tissue degeneration. For marine birds and mammals, such as whales and dolphins, their insulation and buoyancy are affected since their feathers and fur become matted and soaked with oil (Sumich, 2000).

Among coastal ecosystems, the mangrove forest and salt marshes are the most sensitive since oil cannot be dispersed by wave action and is absorbed by the fine sediment characteristics of these areas. It can remain in these areas for more than a decade. Lightly oiled mangroves are likely to recover after a year while those that were heavily oiled will delay its recovery. There are also observed decrease of flower and seed production and defoliation resulting in seeding mortality and a lower growth rate.

Haribon sent its two biologists to Guimaras to rapidly assess the damage and talk to the affected communities regarding their immediate needs. Definitely Haribon will be providing assistance to the area particularly for the long-term rehabilitation of the area. Finally, the government has evacuated the affected families who have already been exposed to the toxic elements of the crude oil. According to reports gathered in the field, people have already contracted skin diseases.

The tremendous task of restoring the affected coastal environment that include cleanup and reestablishment efforts in mangroves, sea-grass beds and coral reefs are necessary activities in order to bring back life in these dead waters. Policies on navigational rousts and national shipping avoidance measures need to be reviewed or formulated if these are absent, recognizing that the Philippines is part of the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago (IMPA) which is considered the area of highest marine biodi¬versity. (Bellwood &Wainwright 2002, Mora et al 2003 in Carpenter & Springer, 2004).

Petron Corp. and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. should immediately act on the proper and legal disposal of oil collected by the local communities that are currently deposited in the area. Authorities should immediately implement proper handling of the toxic oil debris by local communities. These oil debris are health hazards that may cause skin reddening, edema and acute inhalation poisoning and prolonged exposure may affect the central nervous system (NDCC 2006). Bunker fuel, toxic as it is, should be handled by trained professionals and not by the victims of this calamity. Petron should pay the communities for the marine damages as fisherfolk and not as hired help for the oil spill cleanup.

It is disheartening that a big corporation as Petron with its corporate social responsibility programs cannot even ensure the safe transport of oil and other petroleum products. Petron should have standard operating procedures for the safe transport such products.

The DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should prepare a coastal sensitivity atlas that will guide the formulation of navigation routes for the transport of oil and petroleum products or other toxic and hazardous substances across Philippine waters. In this connection, the immediate delineation of municipal waters should be implemented since it will define the zones of the delicate coastal environments that are necessary for the preparation of the atlas and will allow local governments to effectively monitor any illegal disposal of wastes into their municipal waters. The conduct of resource valuation will also help determine environmental impacts that can be inputs into the formulation of policies.


Several causes has been mentioned, including bad weather and human error.

Allegations have been made stating that the tanker only had a capacity of 1.2 million, implying the possibility of overloading. Other investigations have claimed that the captain of the ship has no capacity to manage it.


The spill has damaged Taklong Island National Marine Reserve, a marine sanctuary and feeding and breeding ground for fish and other species. [2]

Dr. Jose Ingles, eco-region coordinator of the World Wide Fund for Nature in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, said that the damage may be felt by at least two generations. He warned that the disaster may have damaged the reefs and mangroves, scarring the ecosystem and causing seafood yields to significantly decrease. According to him, the worst hit would be the shorelines, the coasts and the swamplands with mangroves. This will greatly impact the livelihood of the fishermen, mostly living in poor conditions. [3]

The oil slick also poses as a threat to the blue crab industry of Enrique B. Magalona, Negros Occidental.[4]

In the south-southeast of the spill site is located the Sulu Sea, a deep water area frequented by commercially valued fishes. The towns of southern Negros Occidental province prides themselves as the home of the Blue Marlin and the Yellow Fin Tuna. This is an important source of income for the communities. When the slick is not effectively contained, this will surely damage this thriving local industry.

As of 22 August, the Philippine Coast Guard says that the spill has affected 20 communities in 4 municipalities in Guimaras as of 22 August 2006. It also threatens 27 communities in Iloilo province and 17 others in Negros Occidental.[5]

A villager from Barangay Lapaz, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras became the first casualty directly affected by the spill. He died after inhaling the fumes of the oil sludge causing him to contract cardio-respiratory disease.[5] Two workers from the ship has aslo been reported missing.


Due to the extent of the disaster, the cleanup is expected to reach three years. [2]

Local Response

On August 19, the Philippine government has asked the governments of Indonesia, Japan and the United States to help assist with the cleanup. [6]

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created Task Force Guimaras on 22 August in order to oversee both the cleanup of the oil spill and the retrieval of the 1.8 million litres or so of tanker fuel oil still remaining inside the tanker. The government has also ordered the creation of the Special Board of Marine Inquiry to determine who and what caused of the spill .[1]

Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava has objected to the proposal of disposing the oil wastes within the province.[5]

Clemente Cancio, president of Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation (SMDC), the company which owns M/T Solar I, said that their foreign insurer is willing to pay the cost of damage brought about by the oil spill.[5]

President Gloria Arroyo vowed a full investigation into the country's worst ever oil spill that has devastated marine ecosystems in the central Philippines. Arroyo also ordered the justice department to join a special task force heading an investigation and clean up on the island of Guimaras, where some 300 kilometers (180 miles) of coastline, including stretches of pristine beaches, have been affected by the oil slick from the sunken Solar 1 tanker. "We shall do everything in our power to right the wrongs caused by this unfortunate incident," Arroyo said after visiting the island, adding that she was deeply pained by the disaster that she has declared a "national calamity". [7]

International Response

On August 17, British oil experts,sent by SMDC's foreign insurer, arrive in Guimaras to help assess the situation. SMDC states that the experts will check the extent of the oil pollution. The Britons conducted an aerial survey over Guimaras Island and will come up with the recommendations based on their findings. [8] [9]

A four-man team from the U.S. Guard has arrived on 23 August to help in determining the exact location of the tanker...[5]


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  Local News
Joint Senate-House panel to probe Guimaras oil spill
Refloating charged against ship owner's insurance: Petron
Guimaras oil spill a national disaster
2007 budget to fund Guimaras economic recovery, cleanup
Agriculture conducts bird flu preparedness workshop

Saturday, August 26, 2006
Guimaras oil spill a national disaster

* Affected residents to sue Petron
* Senate head visits Guimaras; inspects oil spill area, communities
* Arroyo to go to oil spill area today

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday declared the Guimaras oil spill as a national calamity and urged all Filipinos to cooperate in order to clean up the biggest and worst oil spill to affect the country so far.

I am declaring the Guimaras oil spill as a national calamity that demands the cooperation and solidarity of all Filipinos. Let us do what has to be done first and deal with the blame later, Arroyo said in her speech at the convention of the National Prosecutors League of the Philippines in Cebu City.

Arroyo Watch: Sun.Star blog on President Arroyo

The President said she has received word that the location of the sunken MT Solar 1 tanker has been identified by experts. The tanker still contains 1.8 million liters of bunker fuel. Only 200,000 liters have been spilled in the Guimaras Strait.

Arroyo on Tuesday ordered the release of P20 million to augment the calamity funds of the affected provinces. Of the amount, P10 million went to Guimaras and P5 million each to Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

Arroyo will visit Guimaras Island Saturday to see the damage caused by the oil spill and to talk to local and national disaster officials.

From Cebu, she will fly to the Mandurriao airport in Iloilo City and transfer to a helicopter for an aerial inspection of the affected areas. At 10 a.m., she will visit Barangay La Paz in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras for an on-site inspection and briefings and an informal interaction with local officials and affected families.

Arroyo expressed deep concern over the mounting health hazards facing the communities affected by the oil slick. She ordered health authorities to conduct a meticulous and rapid assessment of the situation and to follow these up with prompt and sustained actions.

She said mobile hospitals will be set up and evacuation will be undertaken to ease the suffering of the affected residents and to save lives.

Arroyo called on Petron and the owner of MT Solar 1 to immediately clean up the oil spill and ordered Task Force Guimaras led by Defense Secretary Avelino
Cruz Jr. to attend to the environmental and health issues.

She also ordered the task force to work with the private sector and the maritime industry to put up drop-off centers all over the country for human hair and chicken feathers and ensure their speedy transport in order to absorb the oil in the affected area.
Food conglomerate San Miguel Corp. has committed to supply tons of chicken feathers daily while Reyes Haircutters has pledged a large bag of hair every day from each of its 2,000 salons.

Meanwhile, thousands of affected residents in 21 barangays in Guimaras Island are planning to file a class suit against Petron if its fails to immediately clean up the oil spill.
Ambassador to Italy Emily Lopez, a former Guimaras congresswoman and the first governor of the province, said the people are getting restless over Petrons delaying tactics to respond to its obligations.

Theyre running out of patience, she told reporters. They have lost their livelihood and yet it seems the company is not doing everything to address the problem, she added.

The fisherfolk group Pamalakaya and the environmental activist Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment have warned they will file a class suit against Petron for negligence.

Lopez said 2,000 people, mostly small fishermen, have lost their livelihood due to the oil spill. Eight hundred of the effected residents have been employed by Petron for the cleanup operation at P200 a day.

At first they were allowed to work without using safety gear like boots, said Lopez, who along with Guimaras officials accompanied Senate President Manuel Villar in an ocular inspection of the affected areas in Guimaras Island.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) provided pairs of boots to the residents who collect oil residue from Guimaras beaches. Villar also distributed several pairs of boots.
Villar urged Petron to immediately compensate the affected residents.

Petron should also increase the salary of the people knowing the fact that they have lost their livelihood because of the oil spill, he added. Petron used to pay them P150 a day.

Villar also said Petron should also immediately re-float the sunken oil tanker. Theres an urgent need to re-float the ship to stop the spillage. Damages will go up if we fail to immediately recover the ship, he said.


Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava issued a letter Thursday demanding that Petron Corporation and Sunshine Maritime Corporation (SMDC) finish cleaning the Guimaras coastlines in five days starting Friday or face charges.

Nava, in a telephone interview Thursday night, told Sun.Star he has no choice but issue an ultimatum against the two giant corporations, which are believed to be responsible for the mess in the island-province.

In Manila, however, Peter Paul Shotwell, Petron's supply operations and planning manager, was quoted saying that he hopes to finish the clean-up operation within 45 days.
Petron also said it is hiring 869 people from the affected areas on a daily basis for the cleanup and that the number will be increased in the coming days.

"That's part of our commitment," said Shotwell, referring to the cleanup and subsequent rehabilitation of areas that have been affected and those that might be affected by the oil spill.

President Nicasio "Nick" Alcantara, also said they will assume all the responsibilities especially on financial aspect for the on going clean up operation.
"For us, it's a moral responsibility to help the people clean up (the oil spill)," Shotwell said.

Shotwell made the assurance in a briefing called by Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) who had been appointed to head the government's Task Force Guimaras.

He said a team from the Japanese firm Fukuda Salvage and Marine Works is due to arrive in Guimaras on Saturday or Sunday to retrieve the sunken ship, motor tanker Solar I.
He said the team has already left Japan.

Shotwell said the firm will be bringing in a vessel, Shinsei Maru, which is equipped with a remote operated vehicle which can search the seabed down to 2,000 meters and take photos to determine a ship's condition underwater.

In Guimaras, Nava said that a team from the Japan Coast Guard has also started water survey and assessment on the area where the tanker, loaded with about 2 million liters of bunker fuel, sank last August 11.

Experts from the US Coast Guard came yesterday (Thursday), added Nava.

"We thank all these helps but as you know we really need to have our seas cleaned as soon as possible," the governor stressed.

He said that if the spill won't be contained this week, it might totally "kill" Guimaras and the Guimarasnons who are only dependent most on fishing.

As far as the latest information I received (last night), debris coated with oil sludge have started to penetrate the pristine waters as well as caves and coves in Jordan town. Jordan is the capital town of Guimaras.

As to the number of affected individuals or families, Nava said "we stopped assessing as we can't quantify it easily without exact validation. But generally speaking, I can say that 99 percent of Guimarasnons are now affected by the slick,' he added.

On the other hand, Shotwell said Petron is coordinating with Siliman University (SU), University of the Visayas (UV) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the development of a long-term rehabilitation plan.

A press statement Shotwell distributed to the media during the briefing said Petron regrets the "unfortunate incident" as it vowed to "take responsibility in addressing the containment and recovery of the oil spill."

The figure is on top of the five percent of the total workforce of Petron engaged in the mission.

Cruz asked Petron to adopt measures to prevent the oil spill from spreading to the nearby Visayan Sea and Bantayan Island and other threatened areas.

He said he has directed the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to help contain the oil spill.

"Petron has reiterated that it will expend all the efforts and funds to speed up the clean-up and to protect the threatened shorelines in the area and Task Force Guimaras is calling on Petron to continue to speed up the clean-up operations," said Cruz.

He is also asking Petron officials "to provide protective measures to prevent the oil spill from reaching the other shorelines that are threatened. So we're calling on Petron to expedite the clean-up operations."

"I have directed the PCG and I asked Petron to focus some of its efforts on the northern part of Guimaras strait to prevent the oil spill from reaching the Visayan Sea and Bantayan Island," he added.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza I. Cabral said the best way of helping the victims is through providing the people some means of work other than fishing. The DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) central office has also released P2 million to the Regional Office to augment the province of Guimaras in relief and rehabilitation. We have instructed the Regional Office to stock pile relief goods and clothing for affected families.

She went on the area most affected by the Guimaras oil spill on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006 to assess the situation.

Cabral also voiced that DSWD will be working closely with Tesda (Technical Education Skills Development Authority) and Department of Agriculture (DA) for possible implementation of alternative livelihood such as raising pigs, poultry, production of home crafts and conduct of high-value vegetable farming.

After the press conference, Cabral sailed from Iloilo City wharf to Guimaras wharf via a pump boat. The Group proceeded to the Provincial Capitol based in Jordan municipality where they met with Provincial Governor JC Rahman Nava. The Governor illustrated to them the situation in the province.

Cabral, Duque, DSWD acting regional director Teresita S. Rosales, Petron Representatives and some members of the media then trod on the shorelines of Barangay Lapaz, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras, where remains of bunker oil are very evident.

An ongoing Cash for Work activity was observed by the group as Petron-DSWD volunteers went back and forth in clearing up the oil spillage.

Through this scheme, each person who works is paid P200 for a days work. The funding comes from Petron Foundation and DSWD provides needed technical assistance.

For his part, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the very purpose of his visit is to assess the current health situation as a result of the oil spillage.

We are here to do assessment and validation of previous findings. The DOH has put together information campaign, sent out health advisories and placed a 24-hour command post in the province, he said.

He added that the DOH is requesting Petron to provide more gloves, boots, respirators and masks for Guimaras.

In a meeting attended by representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry and DOH, it was stressed that the greatest effect to Guimaras province brought by the oil spill is poverty which shall lead to poor nutrition and acquisition of diseases.

Later on, they wont even get fish in the seas. All they know is fishing and charcoal making. Poverty will be the most difficult problem to combat. This will lead to problems on health and nutrition as well, said Dr. Caesar Guanco, representative of the DOH.

It was also stressed that the effect of this disaster is long-term and affects the most number of people. Even fish ponds that grow Bangus are affected in Nueva Valencia. They use seawater to replace water in the fishpond every now and then, stressed Elena Mandario, representative from the DTI.

Aside from fish vendors, salt producers, drivers who often cater to those who transport fish, shell and seaweed sellers are also affected.

DSWD 6 Regional Director Teresita Rosales, together with the members, deemed it necessary that alternative livelihood for the residents be planned out and implemented in Guimaras. The Cash for Work program, being implemented by DSWD and Petron Foundation

The DTI assured that they, together with other line agencies, would be responsible in identification of local resources in the province which could still be available for alternative livelihood and conduct skills training for the people.

The DSWD is also mulling on the implementation of the Food for School program in the entire province. This program gives one kilo of rice for every pre-schooler that goes to the day care centers everyday.

The Economy and Environment Program for South East Asia (EEPSEA), a research secretariat/network based in Singapore is providing research funds for a group of researchers from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) to determine the costs of the damage caused by the oil spill.

The EEPSEA-supported study has set the following objectives: identify the affected stakeholders, document how the various stakeholders respond to deal with the oil spill,
estimate the economic values of environmental damages caused by the oil spill focusing on direct and indirect use values, develop mechanism by which the damage fee will be collected and utilized, and recommend possible policies on how to address the oil spill.
The research proponent and project leader of this study is Dr. Rodelio F. Subade, while his team members are Prof. Gay Defiesta, Dr. Joy Lizada, Prof. Mary Ann Naragdao and Prof. Jorge Ebay. The modest research support covers field costs, office supplies and social survey materials and research expenses and salaries of research assistants that will be hired by the UPV team.

Though there are no honoraria for the UPV researchers, this research work provides an opportunity for UPV faculty and researchers to be of service to the country. By coming up with the much-needed research-based information and results, decision-making and mechanisms in dealing with the oil spill, particularly the damage claims of the disadvantaged people, can be strengthened, Dr. Subade explained.

Once the results of the team's study are ready, these shall be made available to the Guimaras LGU and may also be presented in a public forum.

Dr. Subade added that what the country needs is a comprehensive policy and mechanism to quickly respond to oil spills and any form of marine pollution occurrence. Coastal communities need training on how to act when such an incident happens. Key cities or ports in the country must be ready with adequate equipment for this eventuality. The affected people should also have commensurate compensation for their lost income and ill health.

This group tackling the economic aspect is part of the UPV Guimaras (Solar 1-Petron) Oil Spill Task Force being chaired by Dr. Rex Sadaba, a mangrove expert, and co-chaired by Dr. Joy Lizada, Dean of the College of Management, as UPVs technical assistance to the Guimaras local government. The economic study will also attempt to assess the value of the damage in other affected areas like the towns of Negros Occidental and Northern Iloilo.

EEPSEA was established in May 1993 to support training and research in environmental and resource economics. Its goal is to strengthen local capacity for the economic analysis of environmental problems so that researchers can provide sound advice to policymakers. EEPSEA is being funded by the International Development Research Center of Canada, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Early this year, EEPSEA also provided counterpart funding support for the research project Economic Valuation of Damages Caused by the Semirara Oil Spill conducted by the same UPV research team. The EEPSEA website is www.eepsea.org. (Erwin Ambo Delilan, May Castillo, Lyncen Fernandez, Dr. Rodelio Subade and Sunnex)

(August 26, 2006 issue)
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