By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Worse than COVID.
This is how affected residents of villages in Calapan and Pola, Oriental Mindoro described the impacts of the oil spill caused by the capsizing of MT Princess Empress.
In an online press conference, April 10, Jordan Fronda, research education and advocacy coordinator of Center for Environmental Concerns, revealed that residents still suffer from the lack of livelihood, and that the aid they received is insufficient.
Fronda’s group along with members of Brigada Kalikasan, AGHAM Advocates for Science and Technology for the People, Serve the People Corps – Southern Tagalog (STPC) and Angat Kabataan Mindoreño, a local advocacy organization in Mindoro Oriental, held a fact-finding mission to look into the effects of the oil spill in two municipalities and six barangays on April 1 to 3.
Norie Labay, village chief of Maidlang village in Calapan, Mindoro Oriental said that they received help from private donors, the local government as well as from national agencies but these are not enough as fishermen are still barred from returning to the sea to resume fishing.
“Since March 16, our residents here have been greatly affected by the oil spill. I could not do anything but implement the ban (from fishing) because the oil is coming to the shore,” Labay revealed.
She added that in her village with 400 families, only 200 families were able to receive aid from the City Social Welfare and Development Office. It was only through solicitation and help from non-government organizations that they were able to extend help to the other 200 families.
“On top of environmental issues, residents are having to deal with little to no income these past few weeks, causing trickle-down effects on their health and education. The impacts of the oil spill and fishing ban are also long-term, so it is not enough to just give one-time assistance,” Fronda said.
According to the mission’s findings, most residents have received aid in the past weeks after the oil spill, however, they said, nearly 100 percent of respondents also reported that the aid they received was “insufficient.”
The groups were able to interview 400 respondents in Lazareto, Maidlang, Navotas and Silonay villages in the municipality of Calapan and in Misong and Tagumpay villages in the municipality of Pola.
In Calapan, Fronda said that the fishing ban is intermittent. On the day of their visit he said the fishing ban had been imposed for more than a week.
Fronda said 93 percent responded that they lack income since the oil spill. The respondents were not only the fishermen but also included fish vendors, tricycle drivers among others. Eighty-six percent said that they received aid, but of this 98 percent said that it is not enough.
“In our interviews there are those who said that they did not receive even one sachet of coffee. Some also point the blame to the owner of the ship and demand accountability. Residents also expressed their frustrations over the slow rollout of aid and the ban in fishing which is their main livelihood,” Fronda said.
The most affected municipality is Pola where the oil reached its shore instantly after one to two days after the ship capsized. Currently, the fishing ban in the community has been over five weeks, Fronda said.
He added that around 70 percent are fisherfolk in the two villages in Pola. Based on the data they gathered, Fronda said they estimated that a family has an average loss of P7,500 ($136) per month due to loss of livelihood.
“There 38.5% of respondents in Pola said they have zero income. They also kept afloat through the cash for work program and farming,” Fronda said.
While almost 98 percent of the respondents said that they received aid, 81.5 percent of them said that it is not enough. Ninety-five percent of residents also said that they needed financial support for the education of their children. Meanwhile, 59 percent said that they needed food.
Other help needed include medical check-up, livelihood, and for the spilled oil to finally be removed from the sea water.
The type of aid received by residents is food. However, Fronda said other needs such as hygiene supplies for infants or money for allowances and transportation for children going to school were not addressed.
According to Labay, there are plans of livelihood projects for the affected residents but it is still not yet in place, she said.
The people are also waiting for the cash-for-work program, she said.
Einala Manalo, volunteer of Angat Kabataang Mindoreño said there are students who were not able to go to school due to lack of allowance. Some were forced to stop, she said.
“There are students who were able to go to school for two to three days only. Some parents have to give up their budget for meals just to give allowances for their children,” Manalo said.
Effects on the environment and health
Jerwin Baure, marine scientist and public information officer of AGHAM said that one month after the oil spill, there are still traces of oil found in some areas of the coast of Pola, including mangrove ecosystems.
Baure said that the presence of the oil in mangrove leaves could hinder its primary production, especially on juvenile mangroves that have few leaves which could affect its survival.
“Oil presence in root structures, particularly pneumatophores, could also hinder breathing of mangroves,” Baure said.
There are also traces of oil that seeped into the sand. This is hazardous to the benthic invertebrates which Baure’s group have observed in the area. Benthic invertebrates include sea cucumbers, a polychaete, limpets, hermit crabs, nerite snails, and other unidentified mollusks.
According to Baure, sea cucumbers are deposit-feeders, which means they feed on sand and other types of sediments.
“Oil seeping into the sediments could possibly lead to ingestion by deposit feeding invertebrates such as sea cucumbers. This could possibly become a health hazard as fisherfolk reported that they collect balatan for food. Other benthic species could also be preyed upon by predators, and could be passed to humans along the food chain,” Baure said
The same is also observed in the four villages their team visited in the municipality of Calapan.
The team found traces of oil in the water, sediment and animals.
“For example, traces of oil were observed surrounding some mangrove pneumatophores in the Silonay Mangrove Eco-Park, Silonay village. In Harka Piloto Island, a fish sanctuary in Brgy. Lazareto, traces of oil and tar balls were also observed in rocks along the shore. In mainland Lazareto, the presence of oil depots operated by Shell & Phoenix Petroleum in the area was noted,” Baure said.
According to the local residents, Shell has an ongoing construction of petroleum pipes coming from the yellow concrete structures located meters away from the shore to the Shell depot. Baure said it is also possible that this facility could be another potential source of oil spill in the area.
Meanwhile, Fronda said there is also a need for medical attention not only to look into the health of the residents but also mental well being.
He said there are at least 24.5 percent of the respondents in Pola that are reportedly experiencing depression. They also received reports of no hazard pay and only short-lived insurance for the cleaners of oil spill.
Continued donation drives
Meanwhile, Berto Alinea of Serve the People Corps said they plan to continue the donation drive for the affected residents.
He also called on the government to continue giving aid to the families. He said help from private individuals and non-government organizations cannot cover all affected communities.
He also said that experts should also be consulted on the alternative livelihood within the area because the rehabilitation will take a long time.
In news reports, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has identified grounds for fishing. However, Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz said that for small fisherfolk with small boats, these areas may not be suitable.
Reportedly, Cruz is calling for an alternative livelihood program instead.
Most importantly, Alinea said that the owner of the capsized ship should be held accountable for the damages it caused not only to the environment but to the lives of the people whose main source of income is fishing.