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Green group seeks urgent action on oil spill to protect Verde Island Passage

The Protect VIP campaign network said the incident must serve as an “eye opener” to the neglect the Verde Island Passage has long suffered

A coalition that seeks to protect the Verde Island Passage (VIP) is calling for accountability and deeper look into the oil spill that wreaked havoc in the waters of Oriental Mindoro.

The Protect VIP campaign network said the incident must serve as an “eye opener” to the neglect the Verde Island Passage has long suffered despite its socioeconomic and ecological significance.

VIP is a strait that separates the islands of Luzon and Mindoro, connecting the South China Sea with the Tayabas and the Sibuyan Sea beyond.

The devastating oil spill occurred after MT Princess Empress capsized on February 28, bringing down 800,000 liters of industrial oil.

“We call on the Philippine government for the most urgent action to contain the spill, assess the severity of damage, and prioritize the welfare of impacted communities who must receive livelihood support and protection from health impacts,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP.

“We also demand accountability from the owner of MT Princess Empress, RDC Reield Marines Services, and the fuel supply it contains,” he said.

The oil spill has put at risk more than 30 of Oriental Mindoro’s marine-protected areas, and has affected other provinces like Antique in Western Visayas.

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The province of Oriental Mindoro has placed at least 76 coastal villages across nine out of its 14 towns.

Volunteers take part in a coastal clean up drive in the town of Pola in Oriental Mindoro, which is among the municipalities hit the hardest by the oil spill. (Photo by Jilson Tiu courtesy of Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development)

The faith-based group said at least 18,000 fisherfolk in Oriental Mindoro alone have been robbed of their livelihood as fishing activities are forcibly put on hold.

The group said residents are also robbed of their seafood supply — “a heavy blow for a province in which over 50% of households already suffer various levels of food insecurity.”

“We thus join local residents in lamenting what would be a prolonged suffering of the local fishing industry – valued at Php 11.80 billion across the 5 provinces of VIP in 2021 – as impacts of the oil spill are expected to be felt for years to come,” said Father Gariguez, who is also the former executive secretary of Caritas Philippines.

He also stressed the need for the government to take into account the bigger picture and what is at stake in the oil spill incident in biodiversity-rich VIP.

The group has been raising alarm on the issue of having more heavy industry development around the VIP area – especially fossil fuel power plants and LNG terminals which would receive shipped cargoes of liquefied natural gas or LNG.

“More plans for LNG terminals means more shipping vessels passing through the marine corridor. This increases the possibility of a similar situation happening in the future,” Father Gariguez said.

“The Verde Island Passage must be afforded no less than the greatest protection due to a global treasure for marine biodiversity,” he also said.

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