The Bayanihan spirit of Guimarasnons was in full display when the bunker fuel from the exploded power barge in Iloilo City reached their coastal communities.
Around 3 P.M. of July 3, Power Barge 102 of AC Energy Philippines in Lapuz had an unfortunate accident that led to an explosion of its fuel tank which has over 250,000 liters of bunker oil. The subsequent spill scattered over Iloilo Strait and reached the coastline of barangays in Iloilo and Guimaras.
Immediately after the incident, around 170 personnel from AC Energy, Philippine Coast Guard, Petron Corp. and Global Power Corp. joined hands to set up oil skimmers and multilayered spill booms for immediate containment and clean-up efforts. The oil spill was successfully contained around 10 P.M. of the same day, but some ‘fugitive oil’ which escaped the spill booms due to waves needed attention.
Domingo Fruto, who lives along the coastline of Brgy. Hoskyn in Jordan, Guimaras, said that they started seeing the fugitive oil in their vicinity on July 5 and acted on it at once.
“We immediately reported it to our Barangay Captain, who called on the community to work on improvised spill booms using bamboo stems and ropes wrapped with used clothing, sacks, and coconut leaves,” said Fruto. “We were able to finish the whole span quickly because of so many volunteers.”
One of the residents, who used to sell ukay-ukay, donated bundles of her clothing for the improvised spill booms. A fish pen owner nearby also gave hundreds of used sacks for the booms.
On the same day, personnel from Guimaras Wind, a subsidiary of AC Energy, responded to the area and prepared additional spill booms made from coconut peats and fishing nets to help in the clean-up.
Likewise, young Guimarasnons were active in helping out. One youth organization named Karito showed communal spirit by preparing snacks to workers in the barangay.
Cash for work for affected fisherfolks
AC Energy made sure to reward these efforts by giving cash allowances to the volunteers who initially responded in making spill booms. Then on July 8, they surveyed the area and tapped 25 affected fisherfolks per affected barangays in Guimaras to help in clean-up and transport of contaminated debris. They workers received P500 per day compensation, good enough to sustain their daily needs.
Arturo Ganila Jr. was one of those tapped by the company for the cleanup and maintenance operations. He previously worked as a pump boat captain but lost his job when the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) did not renew the registration of their boat last year due to tightening of agency’s policies after the infamous sea tragedy involving capsized pump boats in Iloilo-Guimaras Strait.
Ganila resorted to fishing and collecting shells, shrimps, and crabs in their coastal area in Brgy. Hoskyn to feed his family of four.
“I lost my source of income because of that tragedy, and now we are in the pandemic when this [oil spill] happened,” said Ganila. So, I am very thankful that AC Energy helped us and gave us income during this pandemic.”
In their call for shoreline cleanup initiatives, AC Energy reported that over 900 volunteers from different barangays in Iloilo and Guimaras have heeded the call to assist in the clean-up and provide assistance to the affected communities.
“They are very active, they gave us PPEs such as mask, gloves, and boots. They also provided dump trucks for the transfer of the collected debris,” said Kaiser Monreal, village chief of Brgy. Hoskyn, of the company’s early response. “We thank AC Energy for their support in our community.”
Quick response salvaged livelihoods
All of 427 residents of Barangay Sawang in Buenavista, Guimaras depend on the sea for their livelihood and food consumption. Their daily catch of fish, shrimps, crabs, and shells is more than enough to feed their families; some sell these seafoods in the nearby barangays.
“We enjoy the abundance of seafoods here in our area, just in front of our community,” said Punong Barangay Regidor Camarista.
Camarista added that they banked on their past experience in 2006 and 2014 in mounting a speedy response to the oil spill in their shoreline. They knew that the quick action on their part will help lessen the impact of the spill on their livelihood.
Upon seeing the oil sheen closing in on their community on July 4, the villagers cordoned their 500-meter coastal area with improvised spill booms right away.
“We were able to control the spread of the oil spill, and after ten days of collecting contaminated debris with the support of Guimaras
Wind, we are back fishing and collecting shells and crabs for our daily needs,” Camarista added.
Just like in other affected barangays, AC Energy initially tapped 20 residents to help in the cleanup for 10 days and another 5 persons were hired to monitor the area until everything is cleared.
AC Energy through Guimaras Wind, and the local government units in Guimaras also distributed food packs and other goods for the affected families.
Camarista lauded the efforts of AC Energy, especially when compared to companies responsible for oil spills in 2006 and 2014.
“In previous oil spills, those companies only gave us hazard pay and paid our claims. On the other hand, AC Energy has not been remiss with their responsibilities. They sent personnel to the affected barangays to provide assistance and monitor the situation,” Camarista said.
“While we are still waiting for compensation for our claims, we are thankful that AC Energy supported us with relief goods and hired our fisherfolks for the cleanup drive. Those are really big help for us,” he added.
Aside from their efforts in communities in Guimaras, AC Energy provided assistance to affected families in Iloilo City and few towns in Iloilo Province.
In the city, over 300 families in three barangays were housed in the hotels for over a week with all their necessities well taken care of. The company also donated P2 million worth of relief goods for the affected families through the Iloilo City Government.
“We are grateful to everyone for participating in this multi-stakeholder process, and we look forward to your continued support for the cleanup, relief and rehabilitation efforts,” said Gabby Mejia, Head of AC Energy Philippines for Plant Operations.
“With this strong collaboration among the various stakeholders, we are confident that we will be able to achieve our common objective and restore normalcy in the lives of everyone,” he added.