The fate of a completed oil depot in Bien Unido, the de facto seaweed capital of the Visayas, is now in the hands of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) after Governor Edgar Chatto wrote Vice Governor Dionisio Balite to look into accusations from residents “in aid of legislation” involving serious concerns affecting public safety and welfare.
The oil depot terminal allegedly operated by Filoil Energy Corporation is located in Barangay Puerto San Pedro, Bien Unido, has raised “destructive concerns” affecting the community’s environment, health and safety despite the issuance of an Environment Clearance Certificate (ECC) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 7.
In a letter to Chatto on October 18, 2016, Barangay Puerto San Pedro PunongÂ BaranagayÂ (village head) DaniloÂ AngcoÂ lodged a complaintÂ inÂ behalf of the 1,144 residents expressing their strong oppositionÂ againstÂ the operation of the Filoil depot.
The issuance of an ECC by the DENR Regional office was also challenged by the barangay residents after the lack of consultations with the barangay and requirements from key local government agencies were apparently ignored.
But Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Boniel, in a text message to theÂ ChronicleÂ said “Yes, they have all the permits and other papers. It’s just that the brgy. captain comes from the opposing party.”
Barangay Puerto San Pedro Punong Barangay (village head) Danilo Angco attached to the letter addressed to Chatto a score sheet showing 200 household representatives opposing the oil depot project while 16 household representatives voted yes to the project.
According to Angco, the project was started during the term of former punong barangay Priscillo Avenido without consultation from the barangay.
Opposition against the Filoil depot project surfaced lately after initial operations reportedly started even as barangay residents did not raise a howl when the project was started in 2012.
Minutes of the barangay assembly on October 9, 2016 obtained by theÂ ChronicleÂ recorded the admission of Ferdinand Garcia of the Bien Unido Fire Station that no “fire safety certificate” was issued to Filoil for non-compliance of fire safety standards.
Roque Macua of the municipal licensing office who was present during the barangay assembly also told those present that they have not issued a license to operate to the Filoil oil depot.
Former Mayor Marianita Garcia, a resident of Puerto San Pedro also voiced her criticisms against the project during the barangay assembly fearing that the livelihood of the residents will be crippled since the depot is located just a few meters from the fish sanctuary.Â
NO PUBLIC HEARINGÂ
An unnumbered 2016 barangay resolution unanimously approved by the Sangguniang Barangay (SB) of Puerto San Pedro condemned Filoil for its failure to secure the necessary clearances and permits to operate an oil depot.
The resolution also noted that the Filoil depot “has no clearance to construct and operate in the barangay and no public hearing was conducted” to inform the residents of the plans of the oil company.
The oil depot has also raised concerns over the safety of more than 1,000 elementary and high school students in buildings located several meters from the oil depot.
A public hearing is a crucial component for the issuance of an ECC in projects considered environmentally critical.
Also, minutes of the barangay session a day after the regular barangay assembly showed the collective displeasure of the Sangguniang Barangay (SB) over the no-show of Filoil officials despite invitations sent two weeks before the scheduled assembly.
According to the minutes of the session, Filoil officials invited to attend the barangay assembly explained their absence because the day fell on a Sunday.
Documents furnished to theÂ ChronicleÂ revealed that Filoil also skirted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Talibon Office.
Gloria Salas of the DENR – Talibon was also critical on the manner Filoil officials implemented the construction of the oil depot without the benefit of a consultation with the barangay officials and residents.
Salas told the barangay assembly that Filoil officials secured an ECC from the DENR Regional Office by-passing DENR – Talibon.
An ECC is a guideline document, not a permit to operate and is a guide to companies on environmental measures it should undertake.
NO PUBLIC OUTCRYÂ
However, Salas told the residents that when the project was in its early stages of construction in 2012, the DENR-Talibon ordered the stoppage of leveling activities and conducted a technical survey.
Salas also said that there was no hint of protest from the residents at that time while they were monitoring compliance of requirements for an ECC.
Since no consultations were conducted between Filoil and DENR-Talibon, the essential requirements of health, safety and the environment could not be properly evaluated, according to Salas.
According to the resolution, serious concerns were raised by the residents over the apparent environmental hazards that will contaminate the sea grass sanctuary and beaches of the barangay.
Before the issuance of an ECC, according to Salas, a feasibility study should be furnished the local DENR office since the oil depot project of Filoil is considered “hazardous”.Â
Operators of the depot must ensure that oil products are safely stored and handled and there must be no leakages that would harm the area where the depot is located, according to Salas.
Questions arising from the apprehensions of residents concerning the “safety tank” and the areas where wastes are discharged could not be addressed because of the apparent neglect of the company to dialogue with the community, according to the documents obtained by theÂ Chronicle.
Residents present during the barangay assembly raised questions over a pipeline leading to the shoreline with a large well-like structure at the end which they feared would be utilized as their waste disposal facility.
Filoil did not respond to their request for a copy of the proposed plan for the project that should have been constructed in the “upland area”, according to Salas.
Salas urged the residents to file a protest letter to the DENR-Regional Office while the SB is contemplating a court case against Filoil if their concerns are continued to be ignored.
The issuance of ECC’s is now under industry-wide audit under the administration of DENR Secretary Regina Lopez after finding out that ECC’s were issued with apparent laxity to companies whose projects are not qualified.
Filoil Energy Corporation and Total Philippines have created a joint venture for the fuel sales in the country includingÂ Filoil’sÂ nine depot terminals nationwide.Â (Chito M. Visarra)Â Â