Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oil Spills Are Cheap In This Country : The Petron Oil Spill A Year After

It has almost been a year since the Petron Oil Spill and, as in many things in this country, Filipinos have yet to see any closure to the tragedy or any justice delivered to the perpetrators. But what is more tragic I think is that the people of Guimaras are right now being labeled as "opportunistic" ("balasubas" I think is the word Tagalogs use). This is so because, according to International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) agency screening the claims, the number of claimants have already exceeded the local population. IOPC cited for example that in the municipality of Sibunag, which only has a population of 17,802, the number of claimants already came up to 21,152 while in Nueva Valencia, which has a population of 36,813, the number of claims amounted to 37,764. Buenavista, the island province's largest town, has a population of 44,853 but there were 45,451 persons claiming compensation. The IOPC had already paid a total of 11,227 claims amounting to P118 million to the first batch of claimants. A second batch of individuals, numbering about 125,000, have filed for compensation but the IOPC are considering only 134 of these as possibly valid. (For more details, please read "Only 0.1% of oil spill claims to be released" - The Daily Guardian and "Doubtful Claims" - Panay News)

I don't know about you but it is common knowledge that the last census in this country was done in May 2000 (where the country's population was placed at 76.5 million). The National Statistics Office (NSO) is currently holding another census and I wouldn't be surprised to see that the population of not only Nueva Valencia, Sibunag, Buenavista but the entire island of Guimaras would have increased considering the country's 2.3% average population growth rate and the recent influx of new settlers in Guimaras due to the province's burgeoning tourism industry. So IOPC officials' claim that the number of claimants have exceeded the local population might be erroneous.

This is not to say that all the 125,000 claims in the second batch are valid. I am sure that with the immense poverty in Guimaras, some people there are indeed looking to make a fast buck. But IOPC should also not outrightly dismiss all but 134 of the 125,000 or so applications as fake because of what they perceive as a "discrepancy" in the number of claimants vis-a-vis the local population.

To date, IOPC has released only about US$2.5 million (P118 million) to around 11,000 oil spill victims, which is really nothing if compared to the profits being made by oil firms. Petron for example recently reported a second quarter net profit of P1.75 billion. Aside from the inconvenience of dealing with pesky media or "opportunistic" natives, do you really think Petron executives will learn their lesson from this tragedy? Judging from the ways things are moving, they will come out of this incident thinking that oil spills are cheap in this country.

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