ASIA/PHILIPPINES - One year after the environmental disaster: The "Verde Island Passage" is to become a marine protected area

Tuesday, 27 February 2024 indigenous   laudato sì   ecology  


Calapan (Agenzia Fides) - The expansion of polluting industries in the area of the "Verde Island Passage" (VIP), off the coast of the Philippine island of Mindoro must be restricted and the area declared a "protected marine landscape", according to the law on national systems of nature reserves. This is what Catholic priest Edwin Gariguez, former director of Caritas in the Philippines emphasizes, who is committed to the promotion and implementation of Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Sì" and is now spokesman for a group of associations and communities that, on the island of Mindoro and throughout the country, want to preserve the biodiversity of this stretch of sea, especially for the benefit of the coastal fishing population. The danger and concern over the so-called "Verde Island Passage" - known as the "Amazon of Oceans" - hit the headlines a year ago, when, on February 28, 2023, the oil tanker "MT Princess Empress" with 900,000 liters of industrial oil on board sank in this stretch of sea and caused a serious environmental disaster (see Fides, 20/7/2023 and 13/12/2023). Despite cleanup efforts, oil levels in affected areas still exceed water quality guidelines, according to a new study from the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED).
"Unfortunately, the water quality in the corridor does not meet the standards for protected waters. The consequences of the oil spill are still being felt and this situation is having a negative impact on fishing and industry, with health risks and also on the economy of local communities", notes the priest and calls for "official legal protection of the Passage" to safeguard biodiversity but also the vulnerable fishing communities dependent on the sea. "We want the people of Eastern Mindoro to overcome this tragedy with the certainty that it will not happen again," he explains. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Mindoro disaster, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called for "justice for the victims." "Thousands of fishermen have been deprived of their livelihood. The extent of the impact cannot yet be fully assessed and will only become apparent in the coming years," said the statement, which was signed among others, by the main coordinator of the "Laudato Si" program of the Philippine Bishops' Conference, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza (DD).
The Bishops deplore "that the companies and authorities responsible for the oil spill continue to shirk their responsibilities" and call for "adequate and timely compensation that truly takes into account the damage that fishing communities continue to suffer". But a positive aspect is also highlighted by the Filipino bishops: the tragedy "has become an occasion for gestures of compassion among the people of Mindoro and among many who, outside the island, have committed themselves to solidarity", which continues to be invoked, agreeing on the request to make the Verde Island Passage a "protected maritime area" and thus prevent cargo ships from sailing through this stretch of sea. Meanwhile, local communities complain that the government has planned mining activities, the construction of natural gas storage facilities and industrial complexes. The national "Laudato Si'" program of the Philippine Bishops' Conference calls on the government in Manila to reconsider such planning, taking into account the criteria of nature conservation and the protection of indigenous peoples. The program follows the pastoral letter published 40 years ago by the Bishops' Conference on the subject of integral ecology with the title "What is happening to our beautiful earth?" and promotes a vision that includes respect and protection of the "common home", especially for the benefit of new generations. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 27/2/2024)