TOURISM officials led by Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco during a dive in Puerto Galera on April 12, which was joined by Mayor Rocky D. Ilagan. — DEPT. OF TOURISM

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter 

A GOVERNANCE expert on Monday urged National Government agencies to play a more active role in the oil spill management in Oriental Mindoro as the crisis has caused issues among local officials and confusion over the real impact of the man-made disaster.  

At the weekend, the local governments of Oriental Mindoro province and Puerto Galera town released conflicting statements on the quality of sea water in the popular beach destination.  

On Saturday night, Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito BonzA. Dolor issued a report from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Environmental Management Bureau indicating that at least seven areas in Puerto Galera including Sabang, one of the towns economic hubs, showed poor water quality in terms of oil and grease in four consecutive tests.  

Local government units are encouraged to conduct proper steps based on science and the official agency of the government,the provincial chief said.  

The report also stated that samples from the towns of Roxas, Pola, Pinamalayan, Naujan, Gloria, Bongabong, and Calapan City also showed poor results.   

It said sampling frequency in Baco and San Teodoro, Puerto Galeras neighboring towns, was not met,which means the results of water quality tests from the two areas may not yet be conclusive.”  

A few hours after Mr. Dolors announcement, Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky D. Ilagan issued a statement saying the town is not included in the areas affected by the oil spillbased on an April 15 report from the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD).  

Mr. Ilagan stressed that the OCD is the “lead agency” in the inter-agency task force managing the oil spill crisis.  

He also cited a statement from Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario S. Vergeire saying that the Department of Health (DoH) is not keen on imposing a swimming ban on Puerto Galera and the tests conducted are not yet conclusive.”  

A hastily and premature reaction from the LGU (local government unit), without considering the advice of the members of the task force may have an adverse effect on the general welfare of our people,Mr. Ilagan said.   

Marial Ela A. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, called on concerned national agencies to intervene.  

In the case of the oil spill affecting Oriental Mindoro, if inter-local chief executives’ conflict is preventing timely response at the cost of more threats to the people and the environment, it is important for national agencies to respond quickly and appropriately, using empirical or scientific evidence from experts,she said in a Viber message.  

In this situation, both the DoH and the DENR, plus the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, should be the lead agencies,she added.  

Ms. Atienza said that based on the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (PDRRM) law and the Local Government Code, LGUs are the first responders when it comes to disasters.   

The PDRRM Law also requires all LGUs to have local DRRM ordinances and functional local DRRM offices so that they know how to prepare and respond to disasters.”   

However, the laws also state that should disasters go beyond single localities or affect a large area composed of different LGUs, not only inter-LGU cooperation is needed,Ms. Atienza explained. Regional and national government agencies should be involved, especially if the threats are urgent and the LGUs are incapable or even unwilling to deal with the disasters directly.”  

Mr. Dolors announcement came just days after Tourism Secretary Christina G. Frasco went scuba diving in Puerto Galera “in a show of supportto the town, which she said continues to be unaffected by the oil spill.”  

The town last month lobbied for its exclusion from the state of calamity declaration in the province.  

Jayson C. Abarquez, coordinator of Puerto Galera-based Stairway Foundations environmental program, said the results of water tests should also be compared with previous samplings to the same areas prior to the oil spill if there are any to help ascertain the source of the grease and oil and guide us in our action plans.”   

Although the DoH did not categorically prohibit swimming and other water activities based on the report, Mr. Abarquez said his organization took the governor’s advisory with caution by canceling some of their water activities, which include educational activities at sea.  

Puerto Galeras Mr. Ilagan had earlier admonished the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, which has been closely monitoring the incident, for issuing a warning in early March that the oil spill might reach the town.  

In the April 15 statement, the local chief said, At present, the [LGU of] Puerto Galera deems it prudent to maintain the status quo and to await for the official position of the Department of Health, the DENR, and the inter-agency task force in order to verify the current data regarding the oil spill and to coordinate the proper measures to be taken regarding the incident.”  

The tanker MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of fuel, sank off the waters of Naujan town in late February, affecting the livelihood of fisherfolk and tourism businesses as well as threatening marine resources.   

A coalition of various sectoral groups that advocate for the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) called on the National Government to speed up efforts to contain the oil spill and hold accountable those responsible for it.”  

Puerto Galera and other areas in the VIP affected by the oil spill are set to lose millions in expected income from tourism,Protect VIP said in a statement on Monday.  

The continued spread of the oil slick will cause more damage unless it is completely contained by the government,it added. Damage already done must be compensated for by those responsible, which the government must also identify.