PH still not ready for marine disasters – expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 17) — While the country is no stranger to oil spills, it is still not ready to address marine disasters, an expert told CNN Philippines.

"If we want to develop our blue economy, this is one very important aspect that we really have to consider to develop local capabilities to address disasters like this," Rhodora Azanza, Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI), said in an interview Friday on The Exchange.

"We need manpower development, we need infrastructure development at the community level and even at the national level. These (oil spills) could happen anytime as what we have experienced in the past," she added.

The World Bank defines blue economy as the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem."

The country has seen major oil spills in the past two decades. The worst was in 2006, when a tanker carrying more than two million liters of oil capsized near Guimaras Island.

In Oriental Mindoro, authorities are rushing to contain an oil spill caused by MT Princess Empress, which sank on Feb. 28. It was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil.

Around 30,000 families or over 137,000 people in Mimaropa and Western Visayas have already been affected.

Azanza warned that some of the damage in the marine biodiversity may be irreversible and could take years to recover. UPMSI earlier reported that over 36,000 hectares of marine habitats are at risk because of the oil spill.

"We have been pushing for more inputs on this (disaster management) but of course, we have limited resources, limited manpower," the marine expert said. "In fact, one of the things that we are looking forward to is the collaboration with the Philippine Coast Guard, who are not only the guardians of our seas but can also help in the development of some risk reduction management programs."

Regional cooperation 'very important'

The oil spill off Oriental Mindoro is feared to reach the Verde Island Passage — considered as the "center of the marine shore fish biodiversity."

Also speaking to CNN Philippines' The Exchange, Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, said it's "very important" to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address such marine disasters.

She mentioned that the Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan has been adopted since 2018, which is a cooperation mechanism for joint oil spill preparedness and response among ASEAN member states.

This allows the Philippines to seek immediate assistance from the ASEAN and learn best practices in containing oil spills.

"This is an opportunity to operationalize this agreement...in the face of this disaster in the Philippines," Lim said.