By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
The images of oil-drenched beaches, mangroves, sea creatures and stoic fisher folk caused by the biggest oil spill affecting the once idyllic Guimaras Island off Iloilo province are heart-wrenching. Not knowing any better, we would be cursing our bad luck or whatever destructive fate the gods have chosen to bestow upon our seemingly hapless country.
But outside of the bad weather, none of the factors that caused the sinking of the Solar I, an oil tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. and chartered by Petron, were natural and uncontrollable. Of course, blame may be assigned to the captain of the ship for having decided to continue the trip despite precarious weather conditions. The same or even more so can be laid on a neglectful and corrupt government, its lax regulatory mechanisms as well as on its gross ill preparedness for handling such man-made disasters.
Prevention is certainly better than cure, more so when it comes to damage to the natural environment. The fact that the tanker hired by Petron to transport 2.4 million liters of oil is a single-hulled one increased the risk of spillage of toxic material once oil containers were breached.
A senator has looked into the financial health of the tanker owner and is unimpressed that it had the necessary capitalization and operating funds to guaranty the safety of its cargo load. Has the highly profitable oil company, Petron, been scrimping on safety measures and the public welfare?
Current shipping routes are not set with the objective of protecting sensitive marine areas such as the Guimaras Strait, home to one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country as well as a popular tourist attraction with its white sand beaches, marine sanctuaries, unspoiled coral reefs and mangrove forests. Has the government been sleeping on the job, as usual, or perhaps their regulatory powers have been effectively neutralized by “consideration” from crass commercial interests.
Most disturbing has been the excruciatingly slow response of government, Petron and Sunshine Maritime with an underlying tendency to finger-point as to who should do what and, most especially, who foots the initial clean-up, the relief operations for displaced coastline communities, not to mention the long-term rehabilitation bill.
It took two weeks and the hue and cry from environment groups, the Guimaras local government and the Philippine Coast Guard before Malacañang stopped dragging its feet and created a multi-agency task force to deal with the national emergency. Petron chose to ignore Coast Guard warnings that the leakage was a continuing one and was very quiet about its liabilities while it trumpeted providing emergency livelihood to farmers turned clean-up crew. The ship owner was nowhere to be found.
But the worst is yet to come. It’s a race against time to plug the leak in the submerged tanker or suck out the remaining fuel from it. Otherwise, the initial serious and long-term damage done to the marine ecosystem in Guimaras could envelope the entire Visayas region. Already three coastal communities in Negros Occidental have been adversely affected and Cebu is seriously threatened.
Times like this, even a staunch opponent of the Arroyo administration would wish that government will get its act together, do whatever needs to be done with dispatch, in an organized way and with maximum effect.
Alas, that may be asking too much if we go by Malacañang track record and the most recent pronouncements of the besieged president, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Note that we’re not talking here about the recent massacre of the impeachment process against Mrs. Arroyo on charges of stealing public funds, cheating her way to the presidency, lying to the nation through a grand cover-up, and willfully allowing a policy of extrajudicial killings in her “all-out war” policy against the Left in this country.
(As an aside, that apparently, was a lesson in realpolitik courtesy of the grizzled, cynical and highly-rewarded pro-GMA, anti-impeachment House Majority. Here is their superficially erudite line: they had the overwhelming numbers to defeat the impeachment petition; to hell with determining the truth, achieving justice and resolving the political impasse gripping the nation through the only remaining, strictly constitutional means available. Thank you, honorable men and women of the 13th Congress.)
At this point allow us to take some recent examples of what kind of governance the Arroyo regime is capable of.
The evacuation of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) endangered by the highly destructive Israeli bombardment of Hezbollah-controlled territories in Lebanon was marked by interminable delays, disorganization, recrimination, unavailable funds and a pathetic dependence on international charity and humanitarian aid.
At the end of the day, the OFWs were lucky to be back alive, with nothing to show for their misadventures abroad but their scrappy belongings and forlorn looks. Indeed, the future looks bleak except for Mrs. Arroyo’s promise to retrain them to become “super maids” and thereby up their chances of getting rehired in the war-riddled Middle East. Too bad there are still no jobs for them right here.
As to the nursing board exams leakage, Malacañang decided, after the controversy grew larger and more stinky, that there will be no retake of the tainted part of the licensure examinations because, according to the pragmatic words of Executive Secretary Ermita, the “sin” of a few cheaters should not be visited on the majority of examinees who are honest.
Considering that the leakage appeared to involve several board examiners, the head of the Philippine Nurses Association, a score of deans of nursing schools and several review centers, it is not just the integrity of the last board exams that has been compromised but the future of the bourgeoning industry producing nurses for US and UK hospitals. (Not that such an outcome is necessarily bad but that’s for another column.)
Such a dire scenario should have been a cause for worry to an administration that knows that the Philippine economy is being kept afloat by OFW remittances (including those from hundreds of thousands of nurses).
Unfortunately, the latest Malacañang decision merely reflects the deep erosion of moral values and standards of the current political leadership of this country.
Good fruit cannot come from a rotten tree. ###
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