Questions absence of government impetus to hold all involved responsible

A volunteer performing the daunting task of cleaning off oil from stones along the rocky coastline of Brgy. Calima, Pola, Oriental Mindoro. Photo by Noel Guevara/Greenpeace.

QUEZON CITY, Philippines (14 March 2023) — Unless the government demands full responsibility from those involved in the oil spill, companies will get away scot-free and avoid their environmental and social accountability for clean up and economic damages caused by the billion-peso disaster, Greenpeace Philippines warned at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. The environmental group noted that the tanker owner was slow to take responsibility for the spill, and that two weeks after the spill charterer or cargo owner has not come out and their identity has remained under wraps—with no government agency calling them out to take accountability. Greenpeace reiterated the need for transparency from the government, and urged solons to conduct an inquiry that will underscore the accountability of the companies involved and seek reparations for affected communities.

Greenpeace noted that while the owner of the tanker, RDC Reield Marine Services, has apologized for its role in the spill, the owner of the oil cargo is yet to be named. This is in spite of a media investigation[1] exposing that SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp. (reported as a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation, a company under San Miguel Corporation) allegedly chartered the vessel.

“If these reports are true, these are alarming developments with regard to the spill. This suggests that the government does not have any teeth to compel polluters to own responsibility for a major catastrophe,” said Greenpeace campaigner Jefferson Chua. “Unfortunately, we have yet to see the government stand up and take side with the communities and LGUs who have lost the main source of their livelihoods and economies by calling for all companies involved to take full responsibility for the damage.”

“There is also a glaring lack of official information on what facility the cargo came from and where it’s headed, and what it is exactly that’s leaking out of the sunken ship,” he added. “These are vital pieces of information that can aid in developing policies for the avoidance of such accidents in the future.”

Greenpeace believes that it is actually in the government’s best interest to name all parties responsible, and—through a comprehensive inquiry—seek accountability from these companies for the irreparable and ongoing damage the spill has dealt to the communities and municipalities affected.

“We must remember that unless the companies involved are held fully accountable, it is the government that will shoulder the costs for ‘clean-up,’ recovery, and long-term rehabilitation of the ecosystems and communities impacted, in effect cleaning up and paying for the pollution private companies have caused,” Chua said. “Full transparency from all the companies and government agencies involved should therefore be sought.”

Moreover, Greenpeace asserts that the government must mandate the companies concerned to go beyond ‘clean-up’ and pay reparations for the environmental destruction and its impacts on people. Payment must include costs of loss of livelihoods, short and long-term health impacts, destruction of ecosystems, and disruption of ecosystem services.[2]

“The government must compel companies involved to show responsibility and transparency and act with more urgency in stopping the spill and in compensating communities,” Chua said. “This must be done while urgently giving support to all communities and LGUs affected by the spill. Not only have they lost their livelihoods but also have to deal with the resulting lack of food and water, and the effects of the spill will be felt for decades to come.”


Notes to editors:

[1]It was a San Miguel Shipping subsidiary that chartered MT Princess Empress | Rappler

[2]Greenpeace recommendations on the Senate Inquiry (link to the full position paper is here)

  • Beyond looking into the technicalities surrounding the spill, the inquiry must put a spotlight on the accountability of the companies involved, and call for reparations for the communities affected.
  • The Inquiry can look into these gaps in information in order to show a more complete picture of the spill and its impacts, in order to effectively inform policy. It must be noted that there is also a lack of definitive and comprehensive data on previous spills in the country, preventing a full accounting of the costs, and limiting learning of agencies for better response.
  • This Senate Inquiry must delve into how it is possible for the companies involved to get away with an appalling lack of urgency to respond to local government calls and to take responsibility for the spill.
  • The Inquiry should also question the lack of transparency on the part of the government agencies, and their lack of impetus to call for accountability from the companies involved.

Greenpeace recommendations on addressing the oil spill

  • Call for reparations from the companies involved. It must compel the companies to come out in the open, take responsibility for the spill, compensate the communities and local governments for the ongoing damage to health, ecosystems, and livelihoods, and pay reparations for the knock-on effects of this disaster.
  • Enforce stringent regulations and policies to ensure fossil fuel company operations don’t impact people’s rights to a healthy environment; this needs to include impacts not only from pollution from their activities, but also from the sudden and slow onset effects of climate change such as extreme weather events, rising sea temperatures, and sea level rise.
  • Ensure valuable and vulnerable biodiverse ecosystems are protected against industrial activities. For marine protected areas, as well as fisheries management areas, the government must designate sea lanes for vessels transporting hazardous materials like oil, preferably away from rich fishing areas and critical marine reserves. Securing the country’s marine and terrestrial biodiversity needs to be a priority particularly as the climate crisis worsens.
  • Urgently phase out fossil fuels to prevent further environmental and climate destruction and to protect communities. It’s impossible to fully clean up an oil spill, and ecosystems never completely recover. This catastrophe is a reminder that at all stages of its lifecycle, fossil fuels bring permanent harm to people and the planet.

Media Contact:

Maria Katrina Eusebio, Digital Campaigner
Greenpeace Philippines | +639992296451 | [email protected]

Maverick Flores, Communications Campaigner
Greenpeace Philippines | +6319176211552 | [email protected]