More residents fall sick as oil spill in Oriental Mindoro worsens – Pola mayor

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9) — More residents in Oriental Mindoro fall sick as the oil spill in the town gets worse, a local chief executive said.

Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz on Thursday said over 50 residents, including herself, got sick.

Sa loob ng nine days palala s'ya nang palala... at pumunta na s'ya sa mga bato and mga mangroves natin… marami 'yung nagkakasakit,” Cruz told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

[Translation: For the past nine days, it has been getting worse…it has reached the stones and our mangroves… many are getting sick.]

Tapos na ang COVID. Akala namin 'yun na ang pinakamahirap para sa’min lalo na sa tabing dagat kasi akala nila kikita na sila. Hindi pala kasi after pala ng COVID mas matindi po pala ito kasi ang tagal ng recovery,” she added.

[Translation: The COVID pandemic ended. We thought it was the worse, especially for those near the shore because they expected that they would be earning now. But that is not the case because after COVID, the worst thing happened and the recovery would be longer.]

The oil spill happened after MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil, capsized in the waters off Oriental Mindoro. The slick has reached marine protected areas, beach resorts, and shorelines surrounding the province, according to the Department of Tourism.

A number of towns in the province have declared a state of calamity, with Pola being the first to do so.

Cruz said over 3,000 families and 1,700 fishermen were affected by the oil spill. A number of resort bookings were also cancelled following the incident.

Since there is no fish catch, prices of meat and other agriculture goods in the province have risen, she added.

Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development Executive Director Gerry Arances said the impact of the oil spill is “horrific” since it threatens the Verde Island Passage where a number of marine protected areas are located. Around two million fishermen in the province also rely on this area, he added.

“It produces around ₱12 billion annually just from fish catch,” Arances said “Oriental Mindoro alone in 2019 lodged around ₱3.5 billion in terms of tourism which is basically dependent on the marine biodiversity.”

As the local government focuses on cleanup efforts, Cruz said up to 2,000 residents will be hired, with the help of the Department of Labor and Employment, to remove the slick.

More protective gears are needed as more people will be deployed for the cleanup efforts. Currently, Pola town only has around 500 personal protective equipment and around 100 gloves and boots, Cruz added.

The mayor urged residents, especially those near the affected areas, to evacuate for their safety.

She also called on the national government to send experts to affected areas to guide residents in the cleanup efforts.

Cruz said the local government is still waiting for the oil control experts that Japan has committed to send to Pola.

Meanwhile, Arances urged the government to tap experts from other countries. He also said laws covering incidents like oil spills must be reviewed to ensure protection of marine biodiversity.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants the cleanup to be completed in less than four months. Cruz said the local government will try its best given the impact of the oil spill.