Press Release
August 23, 2006

Drilon: More concrete actions needed to avert 'most damaging environmental disaster' in Guimaras oil spill

Liberal Party President Sen. Franklin Drilon today said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must take more concrete actions to address what he said could be the 'most damaging environmental disaster in our country' even as he slammed Petron Corp. for trying to evade responsibility for the massive oil spill in Guimaras.

In a privilege speech, Drilon deplored that 12 days since the sinking of M/T Solar, Malacañang has yet to take immediate concrete action, except for the creation of a task force and the release of P12 million from the national treasury, which he noted was not enough to conduct a massive cleanup.

"We are now facing an environmental scourge." Drilon said. "The oil spill destroys the food supply chain. Millions of Filipinos who are dependent on the fishing industry for their economic survival will stand to lose their livelihood resulting in widespread hunger and suffering throughout the land."

"Premier tourist destinations in the country like the world-famous Boracay will be destroyed if the almost two million liters will be spilled out by the tanker. The oil spill will create an environmental winter that will have irreversible damage on mangroves, coral reefs and other breeding grounds of our marine life," Drilon added.

While stressing that now is not the time to pinpoint blame nor find out who was at fault for the oil spill, Drilon noted that not much was being done to prevent an "environmental disaster."

"Twelve days have come and gone since the tanker sunk ---- what has been done so far? It was only yesterday -- eleven days after the oil spill, that a task force was created. Except for the belated creation of the Task Force, we have not heard even a whimper from Malacañang . It was only the Philippine Coast Guard, the local government of Guimaras and the media by their lonesome which acted on this," Drilon explained.

"Even with limited resources, the Philippine Coast Guard responded quickly. However, the colossal task of mitigating the catastrophic consequences calls for greater financial, technical and human resources," he added.

At the same time, Drilon lashed at the statement issued by Petron Corp. that it has no obligation to give economic aid to communities affected by the Guimaras oil spill or to post bail for the cleanup.

"This very alarming environmental disaster should move Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation with a sense of urgency to harness all their resources considering that this will affect the lives of millions of Filipinos," Drilon said. Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation is the shipper of the tanker that sunk off the coast of Guimaras last Aug. 11.

"However, the impression that the public gathers is that Petron is evasive and perennially in a denial mode. The questions that linger in our mind are: Why is the contract between Sunshine and Petron made public until now? Is there an insurance coverage?" Drilon asked.

"We cannot debate now as to who is liable since the damage to the environment cannot be fully measured at the moment. However, this is an issue of paramount national interest therefore the President must act immediately," Drilon said in his speech.

"The President must allocate and promptly release from the contingency and calamity fund the much needed money to hire experts and salvage teams, purchase the needed equipment, draw up a total strategy that will stop the spillage and remove the tanker, and assist the local governments of Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental," he added.

"For as long as the tanker remains down there, 84 million Filipinos are facing an environmental threat with cataclysmic proportions every minute. The President must take the lead in mitigating this environmental catastrophe," Drilon further said.

Drilon also suggested that that government and the private sector must join hands in addressing the Guimaras oil spill problem," noting that the shipping company responsible for the massive oil spill in Guimaras did not have the financial capability to undertake a cleanup.

"The financial records of Sunshine show that it has no financial capability to respond to this ecological disaster," Drilon noted.

"As of 2004, Sunshine's total assets are only P9.4 million of which transportation equipment alone already costs P7.2 million -- and that may have already sank. Its liabilities amounted to P4.6 million in 2004 and posted a net profit of P106,790. Given those figures, we can already surmise that Sunshine has grossly insufficient funds to compensate the victims of the oil spill or pay for the environmental damage," Drilon pointed out.

Drilon also said President Arroyo should "take the lead in seeking the assistance of international agencies and our allies to help us by sharing their advance knowledge and experience in preventing and addressing environmental disasters such as this."

"This environmental disaster which has incalculable damage to lives and properties, should move us all to action," he said.

The former Senate President also urged that the congressional hearing to be conducted by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources should be held "not to find fault but to strategize and plan remedial actions to address this disaster."

"I hope that in the committee hearings, we can examine more carefully the obligations of Sunshine and PETRON under the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage," Drilon said.

"It is our solemn duty to protect this generation and the generations yet unborn from any environmental scourge that threatens their safety and security. We must be a nation which has environmental integrity," he added.

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