Philippines’ obligations under the OPRC 1990
ATTY. BRENDA V. PIMENTEL
The Manila Times
Maritime And Logistics
THE massive oil spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress in Oriental Mindoro according to news accounts has escalated into a national disaster reaching several provinces and municipalities and has in turn affected hundreds of families. Already the estimates show that the damage to a fragile environment consisting of coral reef habitats exposed to heavy fuel could reach millions of pesos. The ecosystem loss value is still to be determined during the next phase of the damage assessment. The livelihood of the local fisherfolk has been adversely impacted by the continued ban on seafood harvest within the affected area. Most important is the impact on human health arising from exposure to and inhalation of volatile compounds. With no intention of ascribing fault to anyone, it may serve to remind the government involved in maritime administration and enforcement and industry stakeholders engaged in the storage and transportation of persistent hydrocarbon mineral oil such as crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil and lubricating oil of the obligations the Philippines assumed as state party to the Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC) 1990. One fundamental obligation of the Philippines is the preparation of an oil pollution emergency plan compatible with the national system in the following areas: offshore units, seaports, oil-handling facilities and flagged ships, with the latter referring to Philippineregistered ships. According to the Philippine Coast Guard, such emergency plans do exist. The contingency plan is important as it establishes a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents. Another important aspect of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan as Sen. Loren Legarda pointed out during the Senate hearing on the MT Princess Empress is the designation of a national operational contact point that will coordinate the response activities and has the power to mobilize all pertinent agencies and stakeholders. It is recalled that during the MT Solar 1 incident which happened in 2006, off the coast of Guimaras Island, it was Secretary Gilberto Teodoro of the Department of National Defense who coordinated all efforts concerning the response and cleanup operations. Even as authorities are determining the reasons for the mishap, the issue of the Philippines undertaking the necessary steps to put in place enabling legislation for an international convention that the country ratified and committed to implementing is raised. Having a national contingency plan is not the only obligation of State Parties to the OPRC 1990. Republic Act 10121 which established the National Disaster and Risk Reduction and Management Council could be considered as the enabling law of the OPRC 1990. However, it lacks the necessary detailed implementing rules and regulations that will trigger the response mechanism during oil spill incidents, either at the oil terminal, port or involving a Philippine-flagged ship.