EMB awaits barge owner’s reply to violation notice

AC Energy plant operations head Gabby Mejia (right) updates Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas on the oil spill cleanup and the situation of evacuees on July 14, 2020. The firm donated electric fan, gas stove, megaphone, flashlight and P2 million worth of relief goods to Barangays Bo. Obrero, Mansaya and Loboc that were badly hit by the oil spill. Ayala Foundation also donated 3,000 N95 masks, while Ayala Corp, in coordination with Ayala Business Club of Iloilo, also donated 1,500 food packs. (Photo by Leo Solinap)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The owner of the power barge which triggered an oil spill in lloilo Strait last July 3, 2020 has until tomorrow, July 16, 2020, to file its position paper on the notice of violation issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) 6.

EMB-6 regional director Ramar Niel Pascua said in an interview with Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo that they will evaluate the reply of AC Energy Philippines to the notice to determine if the company has violations of the pertinent environment laws.

To recall, EMB-6 issued a notice of violation to AC Energy on July 6 for violating Republic Act 9275 (Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004).

According to the agency, an estimated 268,000 liters of bunker fuel have spilled into the coast of Iloilo City following the explosion of Power Barge 102 on July 3, 2020.

Pascua said they will make a recommendation and forward it to the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) for action.

What if the EMB finds violations on the part of AC Energy?

Pascua said the PAB can fine the firm P50,000 for every day of penalty although it can be increased based on a Supreme Court ruling.

“It depends on the discretion of the Pollution Adjudication Board,” Pascua said.

AC Energy also submitted a rehabilitation plan that focuses on completing the oil spill clean-up, correct removal and disposal of oil-contaminated wastes, ensuring safe level of water and air quality prior to allowing local residents to go back to their homes, and restoring damaged mangrove and fishery areas.

Last week, the Philippine Coast Guard-Iloilo Station filed criminal charges against AC Energy for violation of Section 107 of Republic Act 8550 (The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998) as amended by RA 10654 (Aquatic Pollution).

Lieutenant Commander Joe Luviz Mercurio, PCG-Iloilo Station commander, was the complainant in the case.

Fabilane said that the Ayala-owned company would be the direct respondent, but they would also be impleading its president, as well as the plant manager “because they have the direct hand in the operation.”

The case was finalized after PCG investigators gathered enough evidence to support the criminal complaint, he added.

“Under this law (RA 8550 as amended by RA 10654), ‘pag merong na-introduce sa dagat na makakapag-cause ng harmful effects or would change the water quality of the sea that would result in the disruption of the life and livelihood of those in the coastal, ‘yung tinatawag na aquatic pollution, ito pa ay saklaw ng RA 8550,” Fabilane said.

In the case of Power Barge 102, there was no need for a lot of evidences because “the mere fact that we have pictures of the oil spill, that has in fact reached the coastal areas.”

Fabilane said the spill disrupted the lives of people in several coastal areas in Iloilo City and Guimaras, and Iloilo provinces.

“In fact, there are about 400 individuals who have been relocated. Kinakailangan silang i-relocate. Bakit? Sobra ng lakas ng amoy ng bunker fuel na hindi nila kayang tumira doon sa kanilang mga tirahan. Their livelihood was also affected. Some of them could not go into fishing,” he said.

In a statement, AC Energy it has not received a copy of such complaint, thus unable to make any specific comment on the matter.