Advocates demand urgent protection for Verde Island Passage following new oil spill

June 26, 2024

Protect VIP, a coalition dedicated to safeguarding the Verde Island Passage (VIP), has issued an urgent call for the area to be protected under the Extended National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act. 

The group made the appeal following a new oil spill in Pola, Oriental Mindoro, a year after a massive spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress tanker.

“It is disheartening to see that the VIP is still yet to recover from the Mindoro oil spill last year, and now, another oil spill looms over its previous ground zero in Pola,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the group.

The priest expressed concern that the “new oil spill would add up to the already existing damages” in the area and “while that in itself is alarming, our greatest concern is the potential oil spills in the future if the VIP remains to be left unprotected.” 

Gariguez stressed the need for stronger protective measures. He urged the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the environment department to declare the VIP as a protected area under the ENIPAS Act “to prevent more oil spills and other ecological disasters in the future.”

The new oil spill was reported on Tuesday in Barangays Buhay na Tubig and Bacawan in Pola, as well as in Pinamalayan.

Ivan Andres, Deputy Head of Research and Policy at the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), said that the oil spill poses a threat to vulnerable areas in the VIP. 

He said the affected villages of Buhay na Tubig and Bacawan are particularly concerning, as they are home to a mangrove sanctuary and a Marine Protected Area (MPA), respectively. 

Ivan Andres noted that the water quality in the VIP’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has already been deteriorating, as evidenced by the Ranzo Fish Sanctuary in Bacawan failing to meet the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ guidelines. 

With no rehabilitation plans currently moving forward for the affected MPAs, the new oil spill exacerbating the damage is particularly alarming for the marine life in the VIP.

“Strict investigation and urgent action are needed to identify the cause and ensure immediate containment of the spill, alongside proper assessment of the damages,” said Andres.

Aldrin Villanueva, fisherfolk leader and president of the Koalisyon ng mga Mangingisda Apektado ng Oil Spill (KMAOS), voiced his community’s concerns about the new spill, highlighting that their livelihoods have yet to recover. 

He mentioned that the community is still struggling from the previous oil spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress, as fish catches have not returned to normal and adequate compensation has not been provided. The new oil spill adds to their fears, potentially worsening their situation.

Protect VIP has urged the government to prioritize the protection of the VIP and all marine and coastal biodiversity to help communities bolster their resilience against escalating environmental degradation and economic burdens. 

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