Lito Atienza's Blog

THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE PANDACAN OIL DEPOT CONTROVERSY | April 15, 2009

nvironment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza (left) points to Senators Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano the colonies of illegal settlers living near the Pasig River. Atienza and Legarda both agreed that the illegal settlers be relocated to hasten the “rebirth” of the river which is now “slowly springing back to life” after being declared biologically dead 18 years ago. Atienza said that the improvement is palpable, with the color of water now green when it used to be black nut, and the smell more pleasant than before when it smelled like a canal. Atienza credited the efforts of former First Amelita Ramos in making the change possible. The Pasig River is 27 km long and traverses the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Taguig, and the municipalities of Taytay.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza (left) points to Senators Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano the colonies of illegal settlers living near the Pasig River. Atienza and Legarda both agreed that the illegal settlers be relocated to hasten the “rebirth” of the river which is now “slowly springing back to life” after being declared biologically dead 18 years ago. Atienza said that the improvement is palpable, with the color of water now green when it used to be black nut, and the smell more pleasant than before when it smelled like a canal. Atienza credited the efforts of former First Lady Amelita Ramos in making the change possible. The Pasig River is 27 km long and traverses the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Taguig, and the municipalities of Taytay.

As Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, it is my duty and responsibility to block misguided efforts to allow the continued stay of the oil depots of the Big Three oil companies in Pandacan, Manila.

I cannot allow any pollutive and hazardous industries to rise in Manila. I have fought it before as Mayor of Manila, and I will fight it once more as Environment Chief in all fora to protect the people of Manila and prevent the further deterioration of Manila Bay and Pasig River.

My decision comes in the wake of a move from the City Government of Manila to allow the continued stay of the oil depots permanently through a city ordinance.

Records show that as Mayor of Manila, I fought for the relocation of the oil depots due to possible terrorist attacks that would undermine the safety of the residents in the areas, aside from the hazards it poses to public health and the environment.

Manila first district councilor Arlene Koa sponsored the proposed ordinance amending the city’s comprehensive zoning plan. Specifically, the draft ordinance seeks to revert to “industrial” the land-use classification of the depot.

It is a retrogressive piece of legislation and all right-thinking citizens, environmentalists, and activists should not allow this to happen. Allowing highly pollutive and extremely hazardous industries in the city proper would certainly endanger the health of the public and the degradation of the environment in the City of Manila.

In 2001, I forged an agreement with the Department of Energy for the systematic and orderly phase out of the oil depots within a period of six years. But instead of pushing for the complete relocation of the depots that should have happened in 2007, here comes a new ordinance that would allow for their continued stay in a densely populated area. 11 tanks containing highly combustible aviation gas and kerosene had already been dismantled and a green buffer zone separating the oil depots from the surrounding communities had been established during my term.

It was reported that the Manila minority council composed of Bonjay Isip-Garcia, Joy Dawis-Asuncion, Amy Tolentino, Letlet Zarcal, Joel Chua and Joey Uy have slammed the ordinance as irresponsible and vowed to bring the case up to the Supreme Court.

I have consulted with my technical people in both the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and they have this to say:

PASIG RIVER REHABILITATION COMMISSION

The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission laments the recent moves of some Manila councilors to amend Ordinance 8119 or Manila’s comprehensive zoning plan. Such a move, according to PRRC, will practically render useless all efforts to rehabilitate the Pasig River.

“It is so unfortunate that whenever we get to start something good and worthwhile like cleaning up the Pasig River, something comes up to turn these efforts inutile,” said Architect Deogracias Tablan, executive director of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.

Tablan refers to the proposed ordinance authored by Manila Councilor Arlene Koa to reclassify land zonings in Manila, which came into effect only in 2006, to accommodate again medium and heavy industries. Tablan shares the sentiments of some councilors and others who oppose the measure, saying it will give indefinite permit of operations for the Big 3 oil companies’ depot in Pandacan. Tablan also said it will also open the floodgate for other companies to set up their enterprises around the Pasig River system.

“And that is practically a direct invitation to pollute the river again. Any other future efforts to seriously rehabilitate Pasig River will be difficult if not altogether useless,” Tablan said.

Manila councilors Luciano Veloso and Arlene Koa both maintain that disallowing further operations of industries in Manila will mean loss revenues for the city government.

The PRRC chief said that such reasons are lame and myopic. “Environmental protection should not take the backseat for economic development. We should not be blackmailed by threats of economic losses to give up and stop efforts to clean and rehabilitate the Pasig River. In fact, clean rivers are landmarks of highly developed and progressive cities,” Tablan said.

“Kung babalik ang mga pabrika, e di magtatapon na naman yan ng mga lason at latak nila sa Ilog. Sayang naman ang mga paghihirap namin noon pa sa paglilinis ng Pasig river” (If the industries would be allowed back to operate, then they will surely dump their toxic effluents again. All our past efforts in cleaning the Pasig river will come to naught.”

“It is unfortunate that whenever we get to start something good and worthwhile like cleaning up the Pasig river, something comes up to turn these efforts inutile. Environmental protection should not take a backseat for economic development. We should not be blackmailed by threats of economic losses to give up efforts to clean and rehabilitate the Pasig river.” PRRC Executive Director Deogracias Tablan said.

ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT BUREAU

Cutting down to 50 percent by 2015 the present pollution load ending up in Manila Bay from land-based sources like factories and the Pandacan oil depots will grind to a halt if the proposed ordinance that would create zones for medium and heavy industries in Manila is passed and adopted by the city’s leadership.

“This objective will surely not be achieved if this ordinance will be adopted,” said Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Director Julian Amador of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in a position paper submitted to my office. Amador stressed that the Operational Plan in Manila Bay Control Strategy (OPMCS) aims to reduce pollution from land-based activities by 50 percent by 2015.

Amador said Manila Bay is included in an area, which includes Pasig River and Laguna de Bay, being proposed by EMB to be declared as a “Non-Attainment Area” (NAA) by virtue of Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 which provides that no new sources of pollution are to be built in NAAs unless there is corresponding reduction in discharges from existing sources and the total pollution load from all sources including the new sources will not exceed the targets in the plan to upgrade the water quality as required by law.

“Their (Pasig River, Manila Bay, and Laguna de bay) water quality have already exceeded the desired water quality criteria intended for their beneficial use,” Amador noted, saying that in Pasig river alone, the biological oxygen demand and dissolved oxygen concentrations have consistently failed to meet allowable criteria of 7 milligrams per liter (mg/l) and 5 mg/l, respectively for Class “C” waters used for the propagation and growth of fish and other aquatic resources.

Amador cited the deteriorating air quality of Metro Manila ,which has been designated as an airshed under section 9 of Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act, would further worsen with the passage of the proposed ordinance which he called as “directly contrary to the intention” of the provision.

“Furthermore, the proposed ordinance will further degrade the water quality of our water bodies without counting the negative impact to the air quality in Metro Manila,” Amador noted.

He likewise cited the Supreme Court ruling that sent marching orders to the government to conduct a comprehensive rehabilitation program to revive Manila Bay saying, “it will be difficult for the DENR and other agencies to comply with the SC directive.”

Based on the document “Manila Oil Spill Contingency Plan (MOSCP),” 18 oil spills had occurred in Manila Bay from February 1998 to December 2004 which resulted into over 1.2 million liters of oil spilt into the bay. Out of the 18 spills, nine happened in the Province of Bataan, namely in the ports of Limay and Mariveles with a total volume of 789,751 L. The largest oil spill that occurred in Manila Bay happened in Mariveles, Bataan during the MT Mary Anne oil spill incident with a total volume of 747,991 L. The second largest spill occurred in South Harbor Manila during the MT Sea Brothers incident, with a total volume of 420,000 liters. The statistics does not include spillage in Pasig River and that most spills occurred where vessels traffic is heavy, such as ports and harbors.

The document states that Manila Bay averages around 30,000 vessels a year to unload and load cargoes and passengers, including barges and ships transporting oil products, on its ports.

“A majority of these vessels, which include tankers, passenger and cargo ships, either utilizes oil as fuel or carries it as their cargo. Ship-sourced pollution may result from either accidental or illegal operational discharge of these vessels,” it noted.

It cited that Pandacan oil depot as having “a significant threat to Manila Bay” despite the depots are located inside the Pasig River since “oil spills can also emanate” from the oil facilities during the loading and unloading of petroleum products and could reach the bay area .

I am reiterating our appeal to all sectors of society to support the DENR’s stand on this very sensitive matter. The proposed ordinance to allow the permanent stay of the oil depots in the Pandacan area runs contrary to all our environmental efforts to save the Pasig River and Manila Bay. On top of it all, it is highly detrimental and risky to the most important natural resource which we should all protect, and these are the people living in and around the City of Manila, and the rest of Metro Manila as well.


1 Comment »

  1. Congratulations Sec. Lito Atienza. Your environmental advocacy campaign against Shell, Caltex and Petron shows that you have the political will to implement what is right. The people of Metro Manila do not deserve to live close to any oil depots. They are only health, security, and environmental hazards which are better off in less populated areas.

    Comment by gilbert pascual — April 21, 2009 @ 8:15 am


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