FOR A NATION so enamored with the abundance of its natural resources, Filipinos seem to be completely indifferent whenever tragedies, whether natural or man-made, are affecting the country’s ecology and environment, most especially when the negative effects are not immediately noticeable to them.
On February 28, an oil tanker named MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. At the time of its sinking, it was carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel oil and 20 crew members. This devastating incident has led to a catastrophic oil spill that poses a severe and intolerable threat to the delicate marine ecosystems and coastal communities of the provinces of Antique, Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, and Palawan. However, why does it seem that the gravity of this environmental catastrophe has not fully registered with the Filipino people?
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), 193,436 individuals have been affected by the oil spill. It added that the damage to the agriculture in the area has amounted to almost Php3.9 billion, owing to the contamination of both the soil in the immediate vicinity and the water source for most irrigation in the area. On top of this, the Department of Health (DOH), along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), have announced that only nine out of 35 sampling stations in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro “passed the water quality test.”
Although we may not yet know the full extent of the damage to our marine ecosystem, the mere fact that an oil spill took place in our waters is already a troubling development in itself. But the media’s coverage of the clean-up and conservation efforts has been lackluster. And even when the oil spill makes it to the news, it is hardly considered as a front-page item, relegating the matter to the sidelines and at the background of whatever was the national preoccupation at the time. This severe lack of urgency and indifference towards what is a major environmental disaster is deeply troubling. As a naturally diverse country, we pride ourselves on our natural beauty, our pristine beaches, and our vibrant marine life. But when we are already faced with an actual threat to these national treasures, we choose to turn a blind eye.
Owing to the extreme damage to our natural resources and the devastating impact to the economy, the Mindoro oil spill is not just a problem for the affected provinces, but it is a collective responsibility that demands immediate and concerted action from all sectors of Philippine society. Our government, industry leaders, environmental organizations, and Filipinos must unite in a shared effort to clean up and restore the ecology of the affected areas.
In my view, the government has yet to fully leverage the resources that it has to expedite clean-up efforts. For this to take place, the government, with the help of Congress, should allocate sufficient resources to mobilize a comprehensive and rapid response that includes the deployment of specialized equipment, trained personnel, and the establishment of command centers to coordinate the operation. The DENR and the NDRRMC, along with other government agencies responsible for environmental protection and disaster response, must work hand in hand to ensure a swift and effective cleanup and ask the Filipino people to contribute to this effort, much like how U.S. civil society banded together to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
However, the brunt of the work to clean up the spill must not entirely be placed at the hands of the government and the Filipino people. The people who bear the most responsibility for this is the operator of the oil tanker, RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC). They must exert every effort possible to ensure that apart from the damage already assessed by local and national authorities, that the lingering impacts of the oil spill will be contained and that the lost livelihoods of our displaced fisherfolk in the region would be properly replaced and that they would be sufficiently compensated for this huge inconvenience and hazard to their health. And after all of that is said and done, RDC must be held accountable for the irreparable damage that their recklessness has caused the Filipino people.
We must wake up and realize that the magnitude of the damage of this oil spill, along with the other tragedies that took place before it, is caused by our own apathy to energy use and consumption. Had we kept ourselves engaged in efforts to turn our backs from fossil fuels and non-renewable energy, incidents such as the Mindoro Oil Spill would have never materialized. So apart from merely drawing our attention to the havoc brought about by environmental disasters, we must, in our own little ways, begin to participate in endeavors that will expedite our transition from non-renewables towards green energy sources.