As more people in the locality become aware of the news from social media, TV, and radio, collective initiatives from the community of Puerto Galera took shape after the second week of the oil spill from an oil tanker that sank across Naujan town in Mindoro last February 28.
Unfortunately, there was no coordinated early intervention from the national government to try to contain the spread of the oil. Two weeks after the disaster, a senate committee requested the president to designate an official to lead the disaster response. By this time, according to the Office of Civil Defense, the oil spill had already affected more than 108,000 people in 118 villages in the provinces of Oriental Mindoro and Palawan.
While the national government failed spectacularly to mitigate the disastrous effect of the oil spill, the local communities affected did what they could to contain the disaster, using coconut husks as the main material for the creation of oil spill booms. This made sense because of the many coconut farms in the locality. Here in Puerto Galera, the local government’s environmental department (MENRO) initiated the creation of oil spill booms utilizing coconut husk and other materials like nets and buoys.
Calls for the mass collection of coconut husks and plastic bottles quickly circulated the network of partners of EACY in the local schools, youth organizations, and members of the EACY Advocacy Group. Numerous students responded to the call with sacks of coconut husks brought to schools and other collection centers in the barangays. Plastic bottles from cleanups and households were brought to be used to make the coco boom float.
Initially, when we heard the unfortunate news about the oil spill, we felt very anxious about its impact on the diverse marine ecosystem and people’s life and livelihood dependent on the seas’ abundance. At the same time, we were also relieved that the ship sank many miles away from Puerto Galera, where our programs and operations are centered. We were hoping effective intervention could have contained the pollution, but on April 14, we got official information that the waters and coastal areas in and around Puerto Galera are now contaminated and declared unsafe for swimming, watersports, and fishing. Another blow to the environment and people’s livelihoods, whether they work as fisherfolk or in the predominant tourism industry.
Reactions from Scientists and the Public
Environmental groups and scientists worry over the spill’s damage to thousands of hectares of coral reefs, seagrass, and mangrove areas, including Verde Island Passage, a center of marine biodiversity. Thousands of fisherfolk also face the loss of livelihood and income.” Listen to the Rappler podcast-Lessons Learned from the Mindoro Oil Spill.
Based on Senate investigations and statements from the local chief executives of affected areas in Mindoro, the incident exposed our government’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities in law enforcement, policy gaps, and swift action to pull all the resources to address this pressing situation.
On April 22nd, we will celebrate Earth Day and Stairway’s 33rd birthday. While it can be hard to find a reason for celebration, we must do what we can to learn from this tragedy. The only uplifting experience in the midst of this disaster has been the experience of the local response, where people really have come together to do whatever they could within their means. Our municipality has been confronted with yet another huge challenge, and we will do all we can to help out with any long-term plan for recovery and rehabilitation from this disaster.
Unless someone like us care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better; it’s not.