By Tara Yap
More than a decade after experiencing the country’s worst oil spill disaster, there is again suffering in the island province of Guimaras after the August 3 sea tragedy that killed 31 people.
“This is worse than the August 2006 oil spill. The oil spill was an environmental disaster that did not take away a human life. This is a human tragedy,” said Guimaras Gov. Samuel Gumarin, referring to the capsizing of three pumpboats in waters between Iloilo City and Guimaras.
Gumarin told Manila Bulletin the people of Guimaras never thought that the province’s two major disasters can both happen in August.
Sunday marked the 13th year after the oil tanker M/T Solar 1 sank off Nueva Valencia town in southern Guimaras. The spillage of half a million liters of the 2 million liters the oil tanker was carrying is still considered the biggest oil spill disaster in the country. The remaining 1.5 million liters was later siphoned from the sunken oil tanker.
But aside from the loss of lives, the August 3 disaster “is now hurting our economy and our everyday lives,” Gumarin said.
The Philippine Coast Guard has indefinitely suspended the 15-minute boat trips between the island province and Iloilo City. Only ferries and roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) ships are allowed to sail and carry passengers and goods. The fare, however, is more expensive and trips are limited.
Guimaras is highly dependent on Iloilo City for its food supply, employment and health care.
“We are slowly being isolated. We source out 80 percent of ours needs from Iloilo and our people work in Iloilo,” Gumarin said.
Guimaras is also anticipating a backlash on its tourism industry, which is one of the economic drivers of the island province with only five towns. It has pristine beaches that have been pushed as alternative to the popular Boracay Island as a beach destination, especially among travelers coming to Iloilo.
There are also inland resorts while its long winding roads have attracted bikers during the weekend.
“We need help to get back to normal,” Gumarin said.
He urged national government agencies to talk with local officials and stakeholders to find long-term solutions.