Press Release
August 27, 2006

Cayetano leads joint probe of Guimaras oil spill tomorrow

The Joint Oversight Committee on the Clean Water Act is set to investigate tomorrow August 28 the oil spill which has been regarded as the biggest in the country's history.

The inquiry will be led by Sen. Pia S. Cayetano, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and co-chair of the oversight body, along with Rep. Miles Roces (Manila , 3D), her counterpart in the House of Representatives.

In preparation for the hearing, Sen. Cayetano and Roces along with Rep. Nereus Acosta (1D, Bukidnon) conducted an ocular inspection of coastal villages ravaged by the oil slick, particularly Barangay Tando in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras last Friday, 25 August. They took samples of the oil sludge that had accumulated on the beach and oil-soaked plants along the shoreline which they will bring to the Senate hearing on Monday. Earlier, the group also met with Guimaras Gov. JC Rahman Nava, Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas and local officials for an update on cleanup and relief efforts.

"The inputs in this hearing will be used in the finalization of the committee report that would consolidate several bills on anti-marine pollution and the creation of an oil spill liability fund, and a separate report that lays down the implementing legislation in compliance with the country's obligations to the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation on Oil Pollution Damage," explained Cayetano.

She said that among the main provisions of report being prepared by the committee on the proposed "Ship Pollution Prevention Act of 2006" is the creation of an Oil Spill Liability Fund, which could be used to clean up and pay claims for natural resources damage caused by oil spills from water vessels.

Cayetano likened the fund to a "toll fee" that is charged on motor vehicles. "In this case, vessels that carry toxic substances like oil would be asked to contribute so that there will be a readily available fund to respond to emergency cases like an oil spill," she added, while adding that it usually takes a long time to release money from the insurance coverage of sea vessels.

Among those invited to Monday's hearing are Petron Chair Nicasio Alcantara and Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. President Clemente Cancio., along with Guimaras Gov. Nava and PCG Commandant Vice Admiral Arthur Gosingan. Also invited were defense secretary and national disaster coordinating council chair Avelino Cruz Jr. and environment secretary Angelo Reyes.

Cayetano, who also led a joint probe of the oil spill off Semirara Island in Antique last February, lamented the lack of preparedness and the limited capability of government agencies in dealing with major oil spills.

"It appears that no additional safety measures have been implemented by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) after the Semirara oil spill disaster happened eight months ago," she pointed out.

"The occurrence of two major oil spills in less than a year should already prompt these agencies to adopt stricter measuresespecially for tankers and other sea vessels that transport toxic substances over our waters," she added.

She said she favored higher safety standards for oil tankers operating locally, like requiring the latter to have double bottoms and hulls to prevent these from immediately busting and spilling out oil upon encountering rough currents. Currently, only international oil tankers are required to have double hulls and bottoms under the rules of the International Maritime Organization (IOM). The Philippines is not scheduled to phase out single hull tankers until 2015.

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