DENR vows lawsuit for Mindoro oil-spill damage; claims caravan to reel off


AS the application for compensation in the Oriental Mindoro oil spill begins on March 27, the government led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) steps up the case-building process against the owner of MT Princess Empress.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), for its part, is stepping up the assessment of the devastation to the environment for possible inclusion of a damage claim in the criminal case or cases to be filed against the owner of MT Princess Empress.

The chief of the DENR Task Force MT Princess Empress, Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones, told the BusinessMirror the DENR is following the lead of the DOJ and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which has jurisdiction over incidents of oil spill.

He said DENR has only 2 roles under the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP)—water quality and waste management or disposal.

He said the DENR will file a claim for environmental damage, but is still in the process of assessing the damage caused by the Mindoro oil spill.

According to Leones, criminal raps against the owner of MT Princess Empress may cover violations of environmental laws like the Wildlife Act and the National Integrated Protected Areas Act (NIPAS) or relevant legislation in case of damaged protected areas.

He said the owner of the ill-fated vessel that sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro together with some 900,000 liters of industrial oil, faces penalties and fines as prescribed by the said laws. But since oil spills fall under the category of marine pollution, Leones said the Clean Water Act may not apply.

Under the Clean Water Act, the penalty for causing water pollution ranges from P10,000 to P200,000 per day until remediation has been satisfactorily performed.

“In oil spills, the PCG under the marine pollution law has jurisdiction,” he said.

He added that the Clean Water Act pertains to discharge in inland water bodies.  The oil spill falls under marine pollution, which is under PCG’s mandate.

Nevertheless, he said since oil spill causes damage to the environment, the DENR will go after the owners, whether through penalties and fine under the Wildlife Act or NIPAS—for causing the demise of plant and animal wildlife, including corals, mangroves and seagrass.

“Oil spill causes damage to the environment.  The DOJ is looking into it.  The other day [last week], agencies met to discuss” the criminal and administrative charges to be filed, said Leones.

“Like in Tubbataha, remember that the corals were damaged.  We can impose the same penalty or fine [in the case of the oil spill],” added Leones, referring to the 2013 grounding by the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, causing enormous damage to corals in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A total of 2,345 sqm of corals were destroyed within the legislated protected area, and the US Navy was slapped with a fine of P58 million under Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.

In the case of the Mindoro oil spill, close to 30 locally-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are affected.

However, Leones said the leak is continuing “so we cannot make a final assessment yet.”

He said the DENR-BMB is in charge of assessing the damage to the environment while the DENR-EMB conducts water quality sampling in oil spill-affected areas.

Leones said administratively, the DENR can compel the rehabilitation of affected ecosystems under the Clean Water Act.

He said the DENR will make sure that the cost of DENR’s effort, including mobilizing people for the coastal cleanup, water quality monitoring and damage assessment will be charged to MT Princess Empress’s owner.

Last week, a lawyer of MT Princess Empress’ insurer P&I Club, Atty. Valeriano del Rosario announced that local claims offices will be established in affected areas, beginning with the “Claims Caravan” at the Provincial Capitol of Oriental Mindoro.

“The claims caravan will act as the collecting point for the claimants to submit their completed claim forms,” he said.  Claimants may include individuals, corporations, and local government units affected by the oil spill.

The categories of claims include the cost of cleanup and preventive measures, economic loss in fisheries and marine culture, economic loss in the tourism sector and related businesses, and damage to properties.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said a total of 163,508 people or 34,555 families in Mimaropa and Western Visayas were affected by the oil spill.  At least 192 people experienced health-related problems because of exposure to industrial oil from the sunken vessel.