Press Release
August 27, 2006

Guimaras oil spill shows how helpless RP is against maritime
environment disasters, laments Drilon

The national crisis triggered by the oil spill in Guimaras has only underscored that the Philippines remained hapless against maritime environmental disasters due to the government's continued failure to update the capabilities of the Coast Guard and other environment protection agencies, former Senate President and Liberal Party head Franklin Drilon said today.

In a statement, Drilon, now chairman of the powerful Senate finance and public order committees, deplored that every time a major maritime accident, such as an oil spill, occurs, the Philippine government's "knee-jerk reaction" has always been to turn to foreign countries for advise, expertise, analysis, equipment and technology.

"We have not invested anything to develop our own expertise, technology and equipment so that the Philippines may become self-reliant in managing our maritime environment," Drilon said. "We are vulnerable to oil spills yet we have done nothing to update ourselves on the latest technology available to quickly contain oil spills and effectively clean up our waters in cases of contamination."

Last Wednesday, Drilon, a native of Iloilo City, delivered a privilege speech at the Senate calling on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take more concrete actions to address what he said could be the 'most damaging environmental disaster in our country." He lamented that the national government was not doing enough to address the problem.

Drilon's speech apparently prompted President Arroyo to declare the Guimaras oil spill a national calamity Friday and ordered the Department of Justice to join the investigation and identify those responsible for the calamity.

The President also asked for more solid steps from Petron Corp., the ship owner and government agencies to clean up the ecological mess caused by the massive oil slick from a sunken tanker.

In his speech, Drilon urged the national government to take a direct hand in handling the situation as he expressed fears of a bigger economic and ecological disaster in Western Visayas considering that 1.7 million liters of bunker fuel are believed still trapped in the belly of the sunken MT Solar I, which went down off Guimaras Island 15 days ago.

He also urged the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to draw up a plan on how government could address massive oil spills or other environmental disasters in the future.

"I am asking the DENR to draw up a comprehensive plan now because this will not be the last environmental disaster we are going to see in our lifetime," Drilon said. "This disaster magnifies the weaknesses in the technical capability of the Philippine Coast Guard. Since we are an archipelago, it is imperative that we strengthen our Philippine Coast, which as of now is woefully under-funded and ill-equipped."

Drilon also lamented that ships plying Philippine waters "are still single hulled" compared that to the double hulled ships being used in other parts of the world in compliance with the requirements of the Convention on the Safety of Life and Property at Sea (Solas). The Philippines, ironically, is a signatory to that convention, Drilon noted.

Drilon also observed that ship owners, ship captains, ship engineers who figure in maritime accidents are investigated but are rarely sanctioned for their violations because the Board of Marine Inquiry is not empowered to impose sanctions on those responsible for maritime mishaps.

"Highly technical maritime cases are filed with regular courts which have very limited exposure to maritime laws, policies and regulations," Drilon said. "As a result, maritime cases are treated like ordinary cases, leaving maritime violators unpunished."

"This hampers our growth as a maritime jurisdiction and even stunts the growth of our shipping industry. It's about time we look into the establishment of a maritime court," Drilon noted.

Such disasters such as the Guimiras oil spill, Drilon pointed out, should remind government that "we have largely ignored our maritime development and we are now paying the price for such neglect."

"As a country blessed with marine resources and surrounded by vast waters, we must take immediate action to correct our situation in order to strengthen our position as a maritime country," Drilon said, noting that the Philippine is recognized worldwide for its over 250,000 seamen abroad.

"This does not include the numerous Filipino naval architects, engineers and builders employed in shipyards abroad. We have all the ingredients necessary to become a great maritime nation. Even greater than Singapore and Hong Kong. We just have to put our act together," Drilon said.

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