P140M environmental damage suit filed vs 2 shipping firms

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


CORDOVA Mayor Adelino Sitoy and fisherfolk organizations filed Thursday a petition asking the two companies whose ships collided a year ago and caused an oil spill to pay US$3 million for the cleanup and restoration of the town’s damaged marine environment.

They also asked the Mandaue City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 28, an environmental court, to order the 2G0 Group Inc. and the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC) to pay P81 million in damages to the Municipal Government and to the more than 3,000 members of the Pundok sa Mananagat sa Cordova.

Apart from the shipping firms, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) were included in the complaint.

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“Atong giapil ang mga ahensiya sa gobyerno aron mulihok sila (We included these government agencies so they will take action),” Sitoy told reporters Thursday.

Insurance money

2Go Group’s passenger ship mv St. Thomas Aquinas and PSACC’s cargo vessel mv Sulpicio Express Siete collided in the waters off Talisay City on August 16 last year. The ferry sank, killing more than 100 passengers.

About 100,000 liters of oil from the sunken ship leaked, damaging 328 hectares of mangroves and forcing residents in 13 coastal barangays to stop fishing and gleaning activities for two months.

Pedro Eredera, 34, president of the Pundok sa Mananagat sa Cordova, said he and other fishermen have yet to fully recover although they have gone back to fishing.

Some fishes they catch are not as good anymore, he said.

The petition asked RTC Branch 38 Judge Mercedita Dadole-Ygnacio to issue a temporary environmental protection order and/or a writ of continuing mandamus for the creation of a special fund that will be used for cleanup and restoration activities.

The fund will be sourced by Marina from the mandatory protection and indemnity insurance of the two shipping companies in the amount of US$ 3 million, or roughly P140 million.

Lawyer Benjamin Cabrido, whose law firm represents the fisherfolks, said Marina issued a circular in 2009 requiring shipping firms to secure protection and indemnity insurance of US$1.5 million each.

No comment

Although the circular has been suspended, the Marina Board has not revoked it, said Cabrido.

The 2Go Group refused to comment Thursday, saying it still awaits a copy of the complaint.

The Municipal Government and the fisherfolks also asked that the court to order the creation of a commission composed of DENR, Marina, PCG and the Municipal Government to make an action plan to prevent further degradation of the marine environment.

The commission will be tasked to find out the volume of oil left inside the sunken ship and create a nursery for mangrove seedlings for replanting.

A temporary environmental protection order will compel the shipping companies and National Government agencies to carry out the tasks within three days or else they will be cited in contempt by the court, Cabrido said.

Criminal plaint

He added that the Municipal Government and the fisherfolks will be forced to file a criminal complaint if the shipping firms and the government agencies will ignore their demands.

Sitoy said the Municipal Government was forced to file a civil case because the two companies kept passing the burden of rehabilitating the marine ecosystem and helping affected residents to the other.

“We tried to negotiate. We tried to settle this outside of court, but we have not seen the horizon of any settlement. We have no other recourse but go to the court,” he said.

In its formal demand letter dated February 11, 2014, the Municipal Government asked for P78,645,000 for damages suffered by fishermen in 13 barangays; P5,124,000 for damages suffered by the vendors of Pilipog Tulay Market; and P1,381,622.83 for damages suffered by livelihood projects of People’s Organizations.

On October 1, 2013, the DENR issued a letter demanding the shipping firms to pay P5,935,000 for the damaged newly planted mangroves in Cordova and P35,769,600 for the damaged productive mangroves.

In their reply letters, both shipping companies denied responsibility for the damages.

Mass offerings

Cabrido said the total amount the Municipal Government and the fisherfolk organizations are demanding from shipping companies will reach more than P200 million.

Sitoy said he does not consider the cash-for-work implemented by the 2Go Group for the affected residents as payment for the damages. “Suhol to uy, dili tabang (That was wage they gave, not assistance),” he said.

Meanwhile, the 2Go Group will commemorate the August 16 collision by holding a mass at 3 p.m. in its office and blessing the tombs of the victims in the Carreta Cemetery.

Candles and flowers will also be offered.

Masses will also be offered in nine churches, including the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Basilica del Sto. Nino and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.

The company has held a nine-day novena mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral starting last August 8. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 15, 2014.

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