Times like this, even a staunch opponent of the Arroyo administration would wish that government will get its act together, do whatever needs to be done with dispatch, in an organized way and with maximum effect. Alas, that may be asking too much if we go by Malacañangs track record and the most recent pronouncements of the besieged president, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
BY CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
The images of oil-drenched beaches, mangroves, sea creatures and stoic fisher folk caused by the biggest oil spill affecting the once idyllic Guimaras Island off Iloilo province are heart-wrenching. Not knowing any better, we would be cursing our bad luck or whatever destructive fate the gods have chosen to bestow upon our seemingly hapless country.
But outside of the bad weather, none of the factors that caused the sinking of the Solar I, an oil tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. and chartered by Petron, were natural and uncontrollable. Of course, blame may be assigned to the captain of the ship for having decided to continue the trip despite precarious weather conditions. The same or even more so can be laid on a neglectful and corrupt government, its lax regulatory mechanisms as well as on its gross ill preparedness for handling such man-made disasters.
Prevention is certainly better than cure, more so when it comes to damage to the natural environment. The fact that the tanker hired by Petron to transport 2.4 million liters of oil is a single-hulled one increased the risk of spillage of toxic material once oil containers were breached. A senator has looked into the financial health of the tanker owner and is unimpressed that it had the necessary capitalization and operating funds to guaranty the safety of its cargo load. Has the highly profitable oil company, Petron, been scrimping on safety measures and the public welfare?
Current shipping routes are not set with the objective of protecting sensitive marine areas such as the Guimaras Strait, home to one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country as well as a popular tourist attraction with its white sand beaches, marine sanctuaries, unspoiled coral reefs and mangrove forests. Has the government been sleeping on the job, as usual, or perhaps their regulatory powers have been effectively neutralized by “consideration” from crass commercial interests.
Most disturbing has been the excruciatingly slow response of government, Petron and Sunshine Maritime with an underlying tendency to finger-point as to who should do what and, most especially, who foots the initial clean-up, the relief operations for displaced coastline communities, not to mention the long-term rehabilitation bill.
It took two weeks and the hue and cry from environment groups, the Guimaras local government and the Philippine Coast Guard before Malacañang stopped dragging its feet and created a multi-agency task force to deal with the national emergency. Petron chose to ignore Coast Guard warnings that the leakage was a continuing one and was very quiet about its liabilities while it trumpeted providing emergency livelihood to farmers turned clean-up crew. The ship owner was nowhere to be found.