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Solon sees possible multiple counts of falsification vs. MT Princess Empress

A House panel on Tuesday raised concerns about the supposed falsification of documents that allowed MT Princess Empress to sail around 17 to 19 times prior to the incident where it sank and caused a massive oil spill in Oriental Mindoro and nearby provinces.

The issue was brought up during the joint hearing of the House Committee on Ecology and the House Committee on Natural Resources on the Mindoro oil spill, where the MT Princess Empress’ Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) was questioned.

House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas asked how many times has the motor tanker sailed, to which representatives from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) answered around 17 to 19 times.

Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) regional director Marc Pascua had earlier denied signing an amended CPC, which covered the MT Princess Empress, saying the copy of the CPC released by the PCG was not authentic.

For its part, PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armando Balilo had explained they only allowed the MT Princess Empress to sail after its CPC was submitted to the coast guard on February 27.

PCG Rear Admiral Hostillo Cornelio explained to the House committees that a vessel has to present statutory documents every time it departs. 

“So, kung 17, 18, or 19 ang nasu-submit na dokumento, at ‘yung mga dokumentong isina-submit ay falsified, then that will be 17 counts or 18 counts of falsification. Will that be a correct legal assumption?” Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga asked.

(So, if there are 17, 18, or 19 submitted documents and those documents are falsified, then that will be 17 counts or 18 counts of falsification. Will that be a correct legal assumption?)

Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Raul Vasquez affirmed this.

“On that point, your Honor, Mr. Chair, yes,” he said.

Representatives from shipowner RDC Reield Marine Services were not present during Tuesday’s hearing.

Sought for comment, a representative from RDC told GMA News Online that they are cooperating with the investigation being conducted by MARINA. The representative also said Congress had invited the captain of the ill-fated motor tanker to the hearing and not the owner.

Due to this, Brosas motioned for the shipowner, along with other resource persons involved, to attend the next hearing physically.

“Hindi ko lang maintindihan kasi may 17 to 19 voyages, tapos walang CPC, tapos falsified ‘yung mga documents…bakit merong ganito? Bakit may 17 to 19 voyages?” she said.

(I don't understand because there were 17 to 19 voyages, then there was no CPC, then the documents were falsified... why is there something like this? Why were there 17 to 19 voyages?)

Brosas said the House should investigate the issue further as there might be other vessels that are being allowed to sail in the country’s waters with falsified documents.

“We have to dig deep into this,” she said.

Asked what MARINA’s policy regarding falsified documents, spokesperson Sharon Aledo said, “Under our existing rules, the shipowner may be held liable for the presentation of any falsified or spurious documents.”

MT Princess Empress sank on February 28 off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, while carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel. The resulting leak has affected ecologies, livelihoods, and residents' health in Oriental Mindoro and nearby provinces.

During the same hearing, PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said that the vessel was specifically carrying 991,000 liters of industrial fuel.

He also noted the government’s non-availability of highly technical equipment as a concern for the containment efforts. —with Joahna Lei Casilao/KBK, GMA Integrated News