Oriental Mindoro oil spill reaches Palawan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 10) – An oil slick from Oriental Mindoro has reached the shores of Taytay, Palawan, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported Friday.

Barangay Casian, Taytay, Palawan is 159 nautical miles or roughly 300 kilometers from Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, where the tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil sank last Feb. 28.

READ: Tanker behind Oriental Mindoro oil spill located

The local government of Oriental Mindoro previously said the slick had affected the livelihood of over 10,000 fisherfolk in the towns of Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud, Bongabong, Roxas, and Mansalay.

According to Joji Laurente, Taytay’s Environment and Natural Resources Officer, up to 20% of the town’s population depend on seaweed farming.

The PCG said its personnel went to the town of Taytay on Friday to confirm if the oil spill had reached the area. After confirming, the agency said it started its assessment and cleaning operations.

'Yong panawagan po namin sa national, we need updated information as to the location of the upcoming oil spill… Of course, ang DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) tutulong din kung may ma-affected na mga nagtatanim ng tambalang (local term for seaweed), kawawa naman ang tao, 'yong lang talaga ang source nila,” Laurente told CNN Philippines on Sunday.

[Translation: Our call to the national government is we need updated information as to the location of the upcoming oil spill. Of course, the DSWD is expected to help if seaweed farmers would be impacted, it would be really devastating as it is their only source of income.]

Massive cleanup

A massive cleanup drive in Oriental Mindoro began on Friday, a week since the slick spread throughout the province.

But due to the lack of equipment, residents are forced to improvise their own cleaning materials using rice sacks to scoop the slick. Each batch of volunteers were only given two hours to clean up per day to avoid overexposure to toxic chemicals brought by the oil spill.

Meanwhile, PCG spokesperson Armando Balilo said the agency has coordinated with the US Coast Guard to help contain the slick.

“We have coordinated with the US Coast Guard. We are still waiting for their feedback, but they are also very willing to help,” Balilo said.

The Japanese Embassy in Manila also said on Friday that eight personnel from Japan will help the Philippines address the oil spill incident in Oriental Mindoro and nearby areas.

READ: Japan sends 8 disaster response team personnel to aid oil spill incident in Mindoro

'Whole-of-government approach'

In a statement Friday, Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda said she will file a Senate resolution to probe the effects of the oil spill, as she called for a "whole-of-government" approach.

"I call on all our government agencies to implement speedy actions on the harms caused by the recent oil spill to reduce damage to our ecosystems and fishing grounds, to ease off its effects to coastal towns, which are reliant on fishing and tourism for income, and most importantly, to secure our kababayans' health and safety," Legarda said.

Protect VIP, a coalition seeking to protect the Verde Island Passage (VIP), also urged lawmakers to look into creating laws to protect the marine corridor.

The VIP, considered the "Center of the Center Marine Shore Fish Biodiversity," is situated between the provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, and Romblon where many ferries cross.

"In the short term, we need to identify who would compensate the affected residents and pay for the environmental damage to VIP. In the long run, our policymakers should not just look at oil spills from sunken ships, but also how to minimize the traffic of ships carrying poisonous cargo through this vulnerable area," said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP convenor.

The coalition also asked the owner of RDC Reield Marine Services, the company of the sunken oil tanker, to face the public as more than 10,000 families were affected by the oil spill, with the livelihood of 18,000 fisherfolk being impacted.

When asked if municipal mayors will file a case against the company, Oriental Mindoro Gov. Humerlito "Bonz" Dolor said: "That is yet to be decided later on. Kailangan lang namin ngayon makuha yong extent ng damages sa bawat bayan at the same time 'yong position na personal ng punong bayan bago namin ipinal yong gagawin namin yong aksyon."

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Experts from the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute projected the oil spill could reach the northern Palawan mainland. They said over 36,000 hectares of marine habitats are at risk due to the oil slick.

CNN Philippines' Currie Cator, Raheema Velasco, Jelo Mantaring, and Kaithreen Cruz contributed to this report.