‘Hindi dapat sisihin’: Pinoys rally behind UP-MSI after getting blamed for oil spill projection

March 24, 2023 - 5:18 PM
Coast guard personnel set up a floating boom to contain the oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress in the coastal town of Pola, Oriental Mindoro province, Philippines, March 6, 2023. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Scientists did not cause the oil spill.

Several Filipinos pointed this out in defending the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) that got blamed for supposedly scaring off tourists from visiting Puerto Galera due to its oil spill projection.

In a televised briefing this week, Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan bared that tourists have been canceling their visits to the province amid the worsening oil spill disaster near its waters.

Ilagan, however, blamed these cancelations on the scientists of UP-MSI who have been monitoring the incident since the tanker carrying this oil sank in Oriental Mindoro.

“Ang dami po naming cancellations dahil dito sa ginagawa ng MSI. Sabi ko dapat naman nagiging responsible naman sila dahil ‘yung livelihood ng tao dapat naiisip nila, dahil in actual wala naman talaga,” the mayor was quoted in a report as saying.

The deadly liquid came from MT Princess Empress, an oil tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil. It capsized off the coast of Oriental Mindoro on February 28.

The UP-MSI previously expressed deep concern over the possible damage that will be inflicted on the Verde Island Passage, dubbed “the epicenter of marine biodiversity,” should the oil spillage reach the strait.

The leakage has since affected the livelihood of over 150,000 individuals or 32,000 families in the regions of Mimaropa and Western Visayas.

READ: Call for help: UP experts ask public to report oil spill sightings | Eyebrows raised over remark relating 1987 Constitution change to Oriental Mindoro oil spill | 5 reasons why you should care about Verde Island Passage 

Criticisms vs Ilagan

Ilagan’s accusation against the institute was met with criticisms by some Filipinos on Twitter. Twitter users perceived him to be “barking at the wrong tree.”

“Maybe call out the company who should be owning up to the spill and cleaning it…would he rather the headlines say that tourists are getting sick from the oil spill kasi busy si mayor sa pagbantay ng balita kesa aksyunan yung info?” one Filipino tweeted.

“All the mayor cares [about] is money from the tourist and doesn’t worry [about] their well-being [especially] the environment. Why blame UP-Marine Science? Wrong group to blame!” another Twitter user said.

Some Filipinos also highlighted that these experts are only updating the public about projections. They do not intend to scare people off.

“Hindi dapat sisihin ang MSI. MSI only released projections on the oil spill leakage. Mga predictions lamang ito, at kailangan ng validation mula sa LGUs kung may sightings ng oil slicks. Hindi nito layunin ang manakot, kundi ang magbabala sa mga LGUs upang makapaghanda sila,” Twitter user @MangingisdaSays said.

UP-MSI researchers react

Aiko Love, a researcher at UP-MSI, weighed in on the situation of Puerto Galera being tourism-dependent.

“UP-MSI is just doing its job po to inform the public and warn about the effects of [the] oil spill. This is why dapat hindi tourism dependent yung coastal communities natin. Livelihood programs and self-sustaining towns pa rin ang goal dapat,” she said.

Deo Florence Onda, a microbial oceanographer at UP-MSI, earlier tweeted about how hard it is to be a scientist in the Philippines.

Following Ilagan’s remark, Onda quote-retweeted his original post and wrote: “Oh di ba?”

RELATED: History in the making: Filipino scientist set to reach Earth’s 3rd deepest spot 

UP-MSI, one of the seven academic institutes of UP’s College of Science, has been at the forefront of marine research and conservation since 1974.

It has received P364 million from the government to support 10 different projects for marine research and conservation in the last decade.

RELATED: Looking out for Benham Rise and giant clams: What UP MSI does besides giving free advice 

Latest update on the oil spill

In its latest bulletin about the oil spill, the organization predicts that weaker winds will “allow for larger oil slicks to form because of less disturbance from waves.”

The state weather bureau previously announced the termination of the Amihan or the Northeast Monsson.

UP-MSI recommended the following to be done to help contain the spillage:

“Calmer seas and larger slicks should be taken as an opportunity to collect the oil in slicks near the sunken tanker using booms and skimmers and ramp up cleanup efforts to prevent the oil from spreading further.”

Meanwhile, the MT Princess Empress has been found three weeks since the oil spill. It was discovered using an underwater robot from Japan

Oriental Mindoro Gov. Humerlito Dolor said plugging the leaks and extracting any remaining oil from the tanker was urgent.

READ: Philippines finds sunken fuel tanker 3 weeks after spill