Press Release
March 14, 2023



14 March 2023 (Tuesday), 10:00 a.m.
Sen. Pecson Room, 2nd Floor Senate of the Philippines

Our agenda at today's public hearing refers to the recent Oriental Mindoro oil spill incident. Sen. Francis Tolentino rendered on March 6, 2023 a privilege speech on the issue, while I filed Proposed Senate Resolution No. 537 directing this committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the escalating oil spill from the sunken tanker Mt Princess Empress that is causing surmounting damages to the marine ecosystem and biodiversity, among its other adverse effects. Both Sen. Tolentino's privilege speech and the said proposed resolution were referred to this Committee.

As a backgrounder, we have gathered from reports and other sources that on February 28, 2023, an Oil tanker called MT Princess Empress that was carrying a cargo load of around 800,000 liters of industrial oil encountered engine trouble due to overheating. The rough seas allegedly made the vessel drift towards the vicinity of Balingawan Point in Oriental Mindoro until it capsized and sank off the coast of Naujan in the said province. It was reported that the stranded crew were timely rescued prior to the sinking of the ship. The oil from MT Princess Empress started to spill and spread in the vicinity not long after it sank. And we gathered from Bulletin No. 3 dated March 4, 2023 of the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) that based on the oil spill trajectories made, the oil spill could possibly affect an approximate of 20,000 hectares of coral reef, 9,900 hectares of mangroves and 6,000 hectares of seagrass that could be found in 14 municipalities and 1 city of the Province of Oriental Mindoro, 2 municipalities in Occidental Mindoro, 5 municipalities in Palawan, and 1 in Antique. That was a projection made 10 days ago, we hope to see updated figures based on the actual scenario now as the spread of the oil spill has been escalating day by day and its effects have become more pronounced.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council Situation Report dated March 12, 2023 stated that -
- a total of 13 Marine Protected Areas and 61 Tourist Attractions in Oriental Mindoro were affected;
- an estimate of 8 kilometers of coastline in the Municipality of Caluya in Antique Province were affected as well;
- As to affected population: for MIMAROPA, there are 21,691 families which translates to 107,232 individuals found in 117 barangays are affected; while for Region 6, there are 7,617 families or 26,259 individuals found in 4 barangays are affected by the oil

We have previously experienced disastrous oil spills in our internal waters, the most prominent of which was the Guimaras oil spill in 2006, which was mentioned by Sen. Tolentino in his privilege speech and subsequently, during interpellation, discussed with Sen Pia Cayetano, who was then the Chairperson of the Committee on Environment). The sinking of the MT Solar 1 oil tanker, which carried 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel, off the coast of Guimaras affected 1,500 hectares of mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs, ruined the livelihood of 20,000 fishermen and entailed a long-time rehabilitation. Compared to Guimaras, the current figures show that the Oriental Mindoro is emerging to have more extensive effects.

Our past and current experience then tell us that this Oriental Mindoro Oil spill will definitely adversely affect a) the Marine Ecosystem and Biodiversity, b) Fisheries and food supply (as there were findings of dead fishes and other marine life, like seaweeds, covered with grease), c) the livelihood of the people, especially our fisher folks (Gov. Dolor of Oriental Mindoro has banned fishing and advised around 18,000 fisherfolks in his province to stop fishing until it is safe to do so), d) health of the people (who are at risk of contracting respiratory disease due to inhaling the oil fumes), and the e) tourism industry in the affected areas (the coast and beaches of Oriental Mindoro are popular tourist destinations are affected).

It is an understatement to say that this is a distressing news for the country. For one, this oil spill incident is a setback on our ongoing efforts to strengthen our ecosystem and mend our fragile biodiversity while we are undergoing the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (from 2021 to 2030). You see, the Philippines is among the world's biodiversity hotspots or those areas experiencing high rates of habitat and biodiversity loss. Based on reports, the oil spill threatens around 21 locally managed marine protected areas, including the Verde Island Passage, which is "the center of the global-shore fish biodiversity" - and this happened while there are pending bills poised to give Verde Island a legislated protected area status. Moreover, as the people are still inching towards recovery from the pandemic, it appears unwarranted for the residents of the provinces and municipalities in MIMAROPA and Region 6 affected to be subjected to additional hardships because of the oil spill.

There is an urgent call from the public for the ship owner and the national government agencies concerned to contain the oil spill in the most expeditious way possible. Time is of the essence in order to avert further and irreparable damages. Sure, it will not be easy, but we have the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan in place, there is technology in the application of containment booms, skimming of oil, siphoning of oil, use of sorbents and if it is safe, the use of chemical dispersants to break down oil. The private sector has signified willingness to help, it was also reported that Japan and the US, who have experts in oil containment and recovery, signified willingness to help too. We hope to learn and see what will be the calibrated actions of our relevant government agencies towards the goal of oil containment.

However, while it is the oil containment which seeks urgency, the following relevant questions have also been raised:

How are the affected residents, especially those who have lost their livelihoods, being assisted? How will they be compensated for the disruption and damages they are suffering?

Sen. Tolentino has raised the issue on seaworthiness. Did our regulatory agencies, such as MARINA and the Philippine coast Guard, exercise appropriate judgement in according seaworthiness to MT Princess Empress? Did they take into consideration the probable circumstances, such as an oil spill, and were the presence of maritime protected areas in the vessel's navigational route taken into consideration?

Sen. Legarda has raised the issue of whether maritime mishaps are happening because our maritime enforcement agencies are lax in implementing our maritime laws? Are vessels with poor condition allowed to ply our sea routes?

Sen Pia Cayetano pointed out that there exists an Oil Pollution Management Fund created under RA No. 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007, which is the law she championed in the aftermath of the Guimaras Oil Spill. Is that fund intact and ready to be used during oil spill occurrences?

Those are some of the relevant questions begging for answers.

We will now hear from our other Senators who may wish to give their opening statements as well.

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