Spill Consequences One Year On: Guimaras Island, Philippines

from the Business Mirror, on-line newspaper of the Philippines .. .

Guimarasoil-spill survivors recover but scarred

SUNDAY, 03 MAY 2009 17:54
MORE than two years after theoil spill off Guimaras island, people from communities that wereaffected by the tragedy have recovered and are now back on their feet,though scarred by incident.
The communities were in the provinces of Guimaras andIloilo.

While sporadic traces of oil and grease left behind by the coastalcleanup to restore the region’s marine ecosystem have by now beenswept away by the rains and the tides-Mother Nature’s way ofcleansing itself of toxic pollution-the scars left behind in theminds of the people still remain.

Oil and grease are a grimreminder of what happened after the August 11, 2006, sinking of the MVSolar 1, the tanker chartered by Petron Corp. It spilled over 2million liters of bunker fuel oil and affected 36 coastal barangays inGuimaras, including the Taklong Island National Marine Reserve, sixcoastal areas in Ajuy and one in Concepcion in Iloilo.

Water quality in Guimaras and Iloilo, as far as the Department ofEnvironment and Natural Resources (DENR) is concerned, has greatlyimproved.  Only two areas-sitio Magamay and sitio Almansor inLapaz, Nueva Valencia-still have traces of oil and grease over thenormal reading level of 3 micrograms per liter.

Water monitoring for oil and grease in Guimaras and Iloilo were doneon a regular basis through 59 monitoring sites that covered 954hectares through the municipalities of San Lorenzo, Sibunag in NuevaValencia, Guimaras, and Ajuy and Concepcion, Iloilo. 

The oil spill has affected over 1,000 hectares of mangrove areas,destroyed coral reefs, killed seabeds and seagrass and other marinelife, and drove away fish that used to feed in the coastal waters.
For days immediately after the oil spill, people in coastalcommunities in the province of Guimaras experienced hunger, fear andself-pity.

Today, the scars left behind by the incident continue to haunt thepeople there-the thought of what they’d experienced, and the fearof experiencing it again. This, despite the fact that traces of oil onGuimaras island and in Iloilo have been washed away by the rains andthe tides.

“We will never forget what happened here. It has taught us valuablelessons in life. It has taught us about family. It has taught us moreabout nature and the environment,” said Nonoy Celiz, a fishermanfrom barangays Lapaz, Nueva Valencia, which was severely damaged bythe oil spill.

Now a barangay kagawad, Celiz said the tragedy also reminds many ofhow they survived the oil spill and its impact on theenvironment.

“We woke up one day with oil every-where. Sometimes, we had nothingto eat. We couldn’t go out fishing.?Our children had to skip school. We wereafraid nobody would come and help us. We were losing hope,” hesaid.

“We were supposed to fish that night. The oil was already near theshores.?The next morning, we heardnews about the sinking of the vessel carrying oil,” herecalled.

According to Celiz, the oil spill effectively prevented fishermen fromgoing fishing-the main source of income and way of life for many inNueva Valencia at that time.

Like many who were affected by the oil spill, the Celiz family andothers who live in barangay Lapaz are still struggling from economicdislocation.

“Before, I was earning P800 a night. I only needed to go out fishingtwice a week to support my family. But because of the oil spill, mychildren stopped going to school. Sometimes we were hungry, havingnothing to eat because the oil was still there.”

Elena Gemma Penaflor, president of the Lapaz Coastal DevelopmentAssociation, tells of a similar story. She said she was alreadydistributing fish to malls when the oil spill struck and changed herfortune.

“When we went out fishing, we earned P10,000 a night. But after thespill, our income was substantially reduced.  Eventually, becauseof the effect of the oil spill, we stopped our operations,” shesad.

Ernie Cabrilles, president of the San Roque Coastal EnvironmentProgram Association, also observed that the quality of the fish in thearea has deteriorated.

“Before, the fish tasted good. But now, the fish we catch isn’tthe same,” he said.

Celiz, however, said in less than a week after the oil spill, helpcame. Various stakeholders bonded together to help clean up themess.

National government agencies gave them relief goods, jobs through thecoastal cleanup, and even livelihood training on vegetable productionand livestock raising of chicken, goats and hogs.

Today, people in the coastal communities and upland areas are gettingthe much-needed support from various government institutions as partof the rehabilitation effort in Guimaras and Iloilo.

Celiz, Penaflor and Cabrilles are beneficiaries of a livelihoodproject initiated by the DENR Western Visayas and the ProvincialEnvironment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) in Guimaras as partof the rehabilitation effort of the affected areas in the twoprovinces.

The DENR Western Visayas and Penro in Guimaras and Iloilo currentlyhave 12 projects that are now in various stages ofimplementation.

Dubbed as the Taklong Integrated National Marine Reserve (TINMAR), theproject aims to develop Taklong Island as an ecotourism destination.The community will run and manage TINMAR.

The TINMAR Eco Park Project, however, is being derailed by the releaseof P65.728 million as national government calamity fund for therehabilitation of Guimaras and Iloilo. As of March 31, 2009, theDepartment of Budget Management has only released P25.26 million or38.4 percent of the total budget.
As of March 31, 2009, only 7.5 percent of the mobilization fund wasreleased to the contractor. But almost 75 percent of theinfrastructure component is already completed based on its plans,design and specifications. The structures include the informationcenter in sitio Alman Sur, barangay Lapaz, and water system and bunkhouse or multipurpose hall on Piagao island.

The Penro in Guimaras, headed by forester Raul Lorilla, said itexpects P9 million from the calamity fund within the next two monthsto partially pay various contractors for their services.
Another eco-park project derailed by such release of fund is theEco-Park Development in Dagsa-an CBFM Project. The P2.38-millionproject has yet to start.

“The development of the eco-parks is an important component of therehabilitation effort of the government in Guimaras. This will notonly promote our town, but will help the level of awareness about theimportance of protecting the environment among the people,” hesaid.

However, budget constraint is holding back Guimaras from taking off ineconomic terms from the 2006 disaster.

Alicia Lustica, regional technical director for Western Visayas of theDENR, said despite delays in the release of funds, the mangroverehabilitation in affected areas continue with the establishment of amangrove plantation covering 301.7191 hectares and worth P5million.

A total of 89.38 hectares of various mangrove species within themunicipalities of Sibunag and San Lorenzo, Buenavista and Jordan havebeen completed. There are also ongoing seedlings production andplanting activities.

In the Iloilo province, a total of 26.4 hectares of the 170 hectarestargeted have been planted with mangroves within the municipalities ofConcepcion and Ajuy. Likewise, there’s an on-going seedlingsproduction and planting activities in the two towns.

She said various livelihood projects have been set in motion, almostimmediately after the oil spill, as part of the DENR’srehabilitation effort and intervention.

 “We did not let budget constraints get in our way. We did notsacrifice what we believe are important undertakings in therehabilitation of Guimaras and Iloilo,” she added.
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About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands and the Chesapeake Bay; ex-Peace Corps (Volunteer and staff) in LA & Caribbean; cruised Caribbean on S/Y Meander for three years; like small tropical islands, French canals, Umbria, Tasmania, and NZ. Married 52 years to the late Kincey Burdett Potter (see Kincey.org). President of the now-sunsetting Island Resources Foundation.
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