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Solon says Mindoro fishers allegedly asked to sign P15-K quit claim; shipowner, PCG deny

A lawmaker on Monday said that fisherfolk affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro were allegedly being prodded to sign a waiver that would compensate them for P15,000 at the expense of not filing complaints against the owner of sunken MT Princess Empress.

During the joint hearing of House Committees on Ecology and Natural Resources on the Mindoro oil spill, House Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers party-list Representative France Castro said she received a report on the ground that affected residents would receive the one-time cash compensation if they sign the waiver.

“Nagpapapirma raw sa probinsya na hindi maintindihan ng mga tao ‘yung mga pinipirmahan. Pero ang malinaw doon na ni-report sa amin ay meron daw doong waiver na bibigyan daw sila ng one time na P15,000…at hindi na sila pwedeng magdemanda pa later on kapag nabigyan,” she said.

(People in the province are being asked to sign something that they don’t understand. But what is clear in the report is that there is a waiver, saying they will be given a one-time payment of P15,000. If they accept it, they will no longer be able to sue the shipowner later on.)

Owner, PCG refute 'quitclaim'

This allegation, however, was denied by shipowner RDC Reield Marine Services and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“Wala po akong alam sa waiver na ‘yan. Never po akong… ngayon ko nga lang nalaman na merong waiver na pinapapirmahan sa kanila,” RDC Reield Marine Service President Raymundo Cabial said.

(I don't know anything about that waiver. I've never... I just found out now that there is a waiver that they have to sign.)

According to the ship company, they only released money for the food packs and safety equipment for the province.

PCG, on the other hand, said they were only assisting claimants to gather evidence to support their claims as needed by the insurer, but had no information regarding the said document.

Castro stressed that affected residents deserve more than just P15,000 worth of compensation for the damage incurred by the oil spill.

She added that the fisherfolk allegedly being asked to sign the waiver will be invited in the next House hearing regarding the oil spill incident.

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

Pola still reeling

Pola, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Jennifer Cruz, for her part, said she asked her constituents not to claim the said amount as the effects of the oil spill is still evident in their area.

“Hirap na kami sa aming lugar… Kami kasi ang ground zero sa Oriental Mindoro at heavily affected ng oil spill na until now wala talagang hanapbuhay ang ating mga fisherfolk,” she said.

(It's hard for us in Pola. We are ground zero in Oriental Mindoro and heavily affected by the oil spill and until now our fisherfolk don't have livelihood means.)

Cruz reiterated her appeal for appropriate cases to be filed against the shipowner.

In March, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) issued cease and desist orders against RDC Reield Marine Services which will remain effective pending the result of the investigation into the oil spill.

Ecological damage

Meanwhile, environmental advocacy group Oceana Philippines on Monday recommended the House panel to expand accountability through criminalization to send “a strong message of deterrence, accountability, and the need for reparations.”

“To emphasize the seriousness of ecological damage and promote environmental justice, acts resulting in Ecocide, defined as ‘unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts’ should be criminalized,” the group said in a statement.

“This includes both intentional and negligent acts contributing to oil spill incidents.”

The House panel, at the end of the hearing, created a technical working group with Negros Occidental Representative Kiko Benitez as chair, to further investigate the issue. —VAL, GMA Integrated News