Oil spill exposed weaknesses of PH disaster response capabilities – lawmaker

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 19) – The oil spill in Oriental Mindoro has exposed the weaknesses of the Philippines’ disaster response capabilities, a lawmaker said on Sunday.

"The disaster caused by the MT Princess Empress oil spill has exposed how ill-equipped we are in responding to threats to our aquatic resources due to oil spills,” AGRI Party-list Rep. Wilbert Lee said.

Kaya't hihingin po natin na magbigay ng mas malaking pondo para sa oil spill containment equipment sa susunod na budget hearing,” he added.

[Translation: This is why we will ask for more funding for oil spill containment equipment in the next budget hearing.]

MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil when it capsized in waters off Oriental Mindoro on Feb. 28. It has been spilling 35,000 to 50,000 liters of oil into the sea per day since then, and is expected to do so until the end of March, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu has admitted that the lack of manpower and equipment will greatly slow down the oil spill cleanup operations which cost ₱2.5 to ₱3 million a day.

Lee also said that despite cleanup aid from Japan and support pledges from the United States and South Korea, the Philippines must boost its capabilities for faster disaster response.

"Mas mabilis tayong makakapag-responde sa ganitong sakuna kung mayroon tayong sapat na kagamitan. Dahil sa kakulangan natin, patuloy na nasisira ang mahalagang likas-yaman, at nawawalan ng kabuhayan ang mga kababayan nating nakaasa rito, lalo na ang mga mangingisda," he added.

[Translation: We can respond to these incidents more quickly if we have enough equipment. Because of what we lack, our natural resources continue to face destruction while our countrymen lose their livelihoods, especially fisherfolk.]

The Office of Civil Defense said over 31,600 families, or 145,000 residents, in MIMAROPA and Western Visayas were affected by the oil spill, and 175 individuals also got sick after they were exposed to the slick.

Moreover, the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute warned that 20,000 hectares of coral reef, 9,900 hectares of mangroves, and 6,000 hectares of seagrass could be at risk due to the oil slick.