The tons of industrial oil from the sunken MT Princess Empress, which occurred last February 28, has become a major environmental disaster.
Sinking off the waters of Pola in Mindoro Oriental, the oil slick has gone beyond Pola, into Naujan and almost the entire eastern seaboard of Mindoro.
Now the swift currents of the Tablas Strait is bringing the dirty, sticky black oil all the way beyond Calapan into the Verde Island passage, which is the most bio-diverse marine area in the country, even Asia.
If we are unable to find the spot where the vessel sank, and plug the spot where the oil is gorging out, even Batangas may be in danger of dirty slick touching its shores.
Already, international news reports have shown the location where the oil tanker sank, and the neighboring areas which happen to be prime tourist destinations.
Expect travel cancellations in the immediate future, despite more fun in the Philippines, or whatever new marketing slogan the DOT is cooking up.
We never learn. We had a similar disaster in Guimaras, when the tanker MT Solar I was carrying some half a million liters of oil that sank in shallower waters.
The MT Princess Empress has 800,000 liters inside its hull, and the waters whereof it sank are deeper, the currents faster and wider.
Two weeks after the accident, the ship owners are still waiting for the remote operated vehicle (ROV) they contracted from a supplier abroad to be able to ascertain the source of the leak, and patch it up.
Two lessons should have been learned from the Guimaras disaster.
One, vessels plying our waters should have double hulls, which have the ability to prevent or reduce oil spills.
The ship is designed and constructed in such a way there is a separator between the outer bottom and an inside hull, so that unless there is a huge collision between two vessels, the cargo is protected from spillage.
I recall there was a move during the second Aquino administration by some businessmen to import double hull vessels from Japan, but I am unaware if MARINA or such other government agencies that license vessels have implemented the same.
In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill way back, the US government required all new oil tankers for use in the US to be equipped with full double hulls.
The other lesson we failed to learn from the Guimaras disaster is how unprepared government is in reacting to such oil spills.
It distresses people no end that two weeks after the MT Princess Empire sank, the shipowners are still waiting for an ROV to detect the source of the leak in the vessel.
Why did our government not purchase such ROV equipment after Guimaras, given the fact that oil is transported from Limay or Batangas to all parts of the Visayas and Mindanao?
Surely, that amount would be a minimal fraction of the totality of the pork barrel and insertions/identifications made by legislators in the government expenditure program?
But no. We never learn.
We always react too late. We never pro-act.
Take the resistance of our jeepney drivers to the modernization of public transport.
At the beginning of the Aquino I administration, in fact under what was called a “revolutionary” government where nothing revolutionary transpired other than the replacement of duly elected local officials by then Minister of Local Governments Aquilino Pimentel Sr., the Ministry of Transportation and Communications was headed by Hernando B. Perez of Batangas City.
Being a consultative manager, Nani Perez, who later served as congressman for the 2nd district of Batangas, and later as Secretary of Justice under PGMA, had all of the agency heads under his supervision attend regular meetings where they could directly interact with him on problems as well as offer suggestions for improvement of our transport and communication systems.
Though I was then postmaster-general, and communications was not yet removed from the department, we were all free to suggest measures even beyond our respective turfs, as long as they were within the MOTC realm.
I recall two suggestions which, if acted upon then, or in the later years of the Cory administration, would have prevented the transport mess we face these days.
First, we foresaw the potential traffic congestion in the metropolis once the integrated container terminals were opened in Manila Bay.
Huge container trucks, still relatively novel in 1986, would hog so much road space as they travel from the port to factories or warehouses also situated in NCR.
Why not move the container ports to Batangas City, where there was a completed international terminal which could be expanded as container shipping increased, taking over break bulk cargoes?
That would also decongest NCR of factories which would likely relocate to Batangas, Laguna, and other parts of Calabarzon more proximate to the container port.
The other suggestion was, and this was quite politically controversial: gradually phase out the jeepneys, by asking LTFRB not to give new franchises for operations in Metro Manila, so their operators could sell their units to provincial operators while LTO would stop renewing registration of dilapidated jeepneys.
Meanwhile, the department should proceed to plan and implement more modern transport systems, whether in rail or road.
Some of course said that this was a risky political move, considering the number of voters relying on jeepneys for livelihood.
Still there was unanimity that we needed more modern transport systems and could not rely on the diesel-guzzling, limited space jeepneys which our esteemed colleague, Atty. Emil Jurado described as a pioneering post-war venture of the late Don Emilio Yap.
Nothing happened to those suggestions, and Sec. Perez moved on to reprise his legislative duties in the newly-formed House of Representatives.
Three secretaries succeeded Nani Perez during the Cory administration, and nothing changed.
We are still where we are, and now the jeepney drivers and operators are rightly worried at the full implementation of the jeepney modernization plan which, if started by a gradual phase-out some 35 years ago, could have been smoothly rolled out.
Because we never pro-act and only react when the problems have mounted, and because we never learn from past experiences, we are where we are today.
I have to apologize for a serious error in the previous column titled “Where bullets fly.”
In my haste to send my column to our opinion editor, I failed to delete my previous draft, portions of which came from other articles that I normally post in my laptop to remind me of writings on the same topic.
I actually ended my column with a quote from former president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who kept telling us during his 2015-16 campaign for the presidency, that “I hold it as my chief article of faith, that without peace and order, there can never be progress.”
Incidentally, I was invited by Atty. Alfredo Lim, chairman of the Lex Talionis Fraternitas, to a book-launching event last Monday, where the former president was guest of honor.
Still preferring to be addressed as “Mayor,” Duterte mingled with his fraternity brothers, looking more relaxed and in good health despite the many problems he faced head-on and hands-on in the previous six years.