Call for Decisive Actions, Accountability, and Transparency on the Oil Spill Tragedy: Statement of Concerned Filipino Lawyers

17 March 2023

We, concerned Filipino lawyers as citizens, strongly condemn the lackluster response of the government in addressing the oil spill contamination ravaging our seas, biodiversity, health and income of affected coastal residents in Oriental Mindoro. This is a grave evolving environmental catastrophe that has caused significant harm to the sacred ecosystems in the area and has affected the lives and livelihood of local communities who depend upon fishing and tourism for their income. It is posing serious health risks, and is compromising the well-being of the people including the elderly, the women and the children.

The Verde Island Passage is an ecologically significant and one of the most highly productive ecosystems in the Philippines, thus, the protection and conservation of this area should be a top priority for the government. The oil spill contamination is a devastating threat to the marine biodiversity of the Verde Island Passage. The government must take immediate and effective measures to address this ecological nightmare and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future by ensuring that our laws and regulations are strictly enforced.

This is a disaster of national and international proportions; thus, we urgently call on President Marcos to take immediate action and declare a state of national calamity in the affected areas to provide necessary relief and assistance to the affected communities. Immediate action is to thoroughly assess the impact area and contain the oil spill. Likewise, whole-of-nation actions are needed to address the urgent needs of affected communities, including providing adequate compensation, short-term and long-term health care, and rehabilitation measures.

We demand a thorough investigation into this disaster and hold accountable those responsible, including those in agencies who were in dereliction of their duties. There should be transparency and strict accountability in the conduct of the impartial investigation and full disclosure of parties involved in this mess. It was only owing to a senate inquiry that critical details finally came to light two weeks after the tragedy struck, such as the relevant permits, or the lack thereof, of the shipowner RDC Reield Marines Services, Inc., the necessary measures taken to ensure the seaworthiness of the tanker MT Princess Empress, and the lack of clear coordination among the government agencies supposed to be responding to this disaster.

To date, relevant government agencies have still not confirmed the report that it is a San Miguel Corporation subsidiary, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, that was the charterer of the sunken vessel. There is likewise still incomplete information as to who owns the oil, what kind of oil(s) is/are present in the vessel, and what are the harmful impacts of contamination, among others. There are also inconsistent statements from the government agencies and the shipowner, concerning the legality of the tanker’s operations in relation to the amendment of the latter’s Certificate of Public Convenience, and the state of the tanker, being new or a rebuilt scrap.

The public has the right to know what happened, who is responsible, what measures are being taken to address the extensive damage caused by the oil spill, including the posting of a bond on the part of the polluters to cover containment and clean-up costs and damages estimated thus far, and what punitive actions will be pursued to deter tragic and avoidable instances like this in the future.

Furthermore, the critical role of quick, timely, science-based and effective oil spill response according to existing laws and guidelines cannot be overemphasized. There must be a coordinated approach to address this national crisis, which are already provided for in the Philippine Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Act of 2010 (Republic Act 10121) and related laws. More importantly, the local government units and coastal communities deserve to be heard, involved in decision-making and fully supported as the state of uncertainty looms in the hearts of their constituents.

The people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a clean, healthy, and balanced ecology is at stake in the oil pollution crisis. The Philippine Constitution declares that the State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. The case of Oposa v. Factoran, interpreted this to mean that it is the duty of the government and stakeholders to protect and preserve and not to destroy the environment for the benefit of the present and future generations. Even the United Nations General Assembly declared the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right.

The continuing pollution of our waters and destruction of critical marine habitats are clear violations of the people’s constitutional right to a clean, healthy, and balanced ecology, and those responsible must be held accountable for their actions, omissions and negligence.

We urge the government to take swift and decisive action to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy, and balanced ecology is upheld and protected for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos.


Atty. Gloria Estenzo RamosVice-President, OceanaDean Antonio G.M. La Viña, JSDAssociate Director, Manila Observatory

Atty. Rose-Liza Eisma-OsorioLegal and Policy Director, Oceana

Atty. Jose Manuel “Chel” Tadeo Diokno

Atty. Grizelda Mayo-AndaExecutive Director, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc.

Atty. Efenita M. TaquebanExecutive Director, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines

Atty. Joy ReyesLegal and Research Policy Associate,Manila Observatory

Atty. Aaron PedrosaHead, Legal Team, Philippine Movement for Climate JusticeSecretary-General, Sanlakas

Atty. Rhea Yray-FrossardCampaign & Research Director, Oceana

Atty. Avril P. De TorresDeputy Executive DirectorCenter for Energy, Ecology, and Development

Atty. Ma. Nikka Andrea F. OquiasLegal and Policy Specialist, Oceana

Atty. Renecio “Luke” Espiritu, Jr.President, Bukluran ng Manggagawang        Pilipino

Atty. Isabel Patricia C. SorescaCenter for Energy, Ecology, and   Development
 Atty. Michael de CastroManaging Counsel, Leflegis

Atty. Victoria S. BataclanRetired Ambassador of the Republicof the Philippines
 Atty. Virgilio OcayaIBP- Misamis Occidental Chapter   

Atty. Crispulo Rosacia, Jr.     IBP – Cagayan

Atty. Asia WyLegal Fellow, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc.

Atty. Ma. Loreto U. Navarro    

Atty. Thaddeus Venturanza IBP- Oriental Mindoro Chapter

Atty. Heidi Galos

Atty. Pilita Quizon-VenturanzaIBP – Oriental Mindoro Chapter

Atty. Zoilo L Andin, Jr.IBP – Pampanga Chapter
   Atty. Maria Q. VenturanzaIBP – Oriental Mindoro Chapter

Atty. Theofredo Jose R. SandicoIBP – Quezon City Chapter

Atty. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate La Viña Zarate & Associates

Atty. Jim Francisco L. AsuncionIBP – Marinduque
 Atty. Reeza SingzonLegal Officer, Phil. Movement forClimate Justice

Atty. Aljun SarmientoLegal Officer, Phil. Movement forClimate Justice

Atty. Cecilio  GelladaIBP – Quezon City

Atty. Crystal A. Mercado                    IBP-Nueva Ecija Chapter

Atty. Ronnan Christian M. ReposarEnvironmental Legal Assistance Center, (ELAC) Inc. – Eastern Visayas

Atty. Victoria  A. Villaluz IBP – Makati

Atty. Rafael Greggorre T. PajaresEnvironmental Legal Assistance Center, (ELAC) Inc. – Eastern Visayas

Atty. Simeon V. MarceloIBP – Nueva Ecija

Atty. Jessica Joy U. BendoyEnvironmental Legal Assistance Center, (ELAC) Inc. – Eastern Visayas

Atty. Max PatagIBP – Rizal

   Atty. Barbette Joanne B. ReposarEnvironmental Legal Assistance Center, (ELAC) Inc. – Eastern Visayas

Atty. Domingo AñonuevoIBP – Laguna

Atty. Edre OlaliaIBP – Rizal San Juan Mandaluyong

Atty. Ferdinand M. CorpuzIBP- Rizal

Atty. Gilbert Mario A. Dela CruzIBP Chapter – Makati City

Atty. Agripino G. MorgaIBP – Laguna

Atty. Melanie Ann Limson Zerrudo IBP – Makati City

Atty. Dan Christian E. RamosIBP – Makati City

Atty. Sixto Jose C. AntonioIBP – RSM Chapter

Atty. Kylie Kaur M. Dado                                 IBP – Makati City

Atty. Allen Christopher R. TolosaIBP – Makati

Atty. Ivan S. ValcosIBP – Bulacan

Atty. Editha Y. OrtegaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Michelle A. LauretaIBP – Camarines Sur

Atty. Manuel P. DelicaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Lalaine Jertrude L. Hablado-ReyesIBP – Pasay, Paranaque, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa

Atty. Joel J. JabalIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Evelyn Tumacder AlamedaIBP – Quezon City

Atty. Charlotte Aguba GocoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Judith Sylvia Belderol Lewis

Atty. Diana Mae C. CalangiIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Tristan Gabriel DP IgnacioIBP – Rizal-San Juan-Mandaluyong

Atty. Raymond Joel L. BalbuenaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Frederick G. YoungIBP – Manila III

Atty. Larry M. QuintonIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Ed C. BunquinIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Amiel C. GunoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Antonio S. Perez, Jr. IBP – Oriental Mindoro 

Atty. Arlene C. AcevedaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Warren-Derick T. Legaspi IBP – Oriental Mindoro 

Atty. Tyron Kim D. BaculoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Xela Leona D. Laqui IBP – Oriental Mindoro 

Atty. Merlyn U. GutierrezIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Jesus Franco Bautista LasquiteIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Ivann James Z. VergaraIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Ma. Ellen C. AbasIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Maria Rosario Tam-ArmamentoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Shyrell Clemino-AbeloIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Suminigay P. MirindatoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Veronica G. ChanIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Juno Korinna G. Concepcion-MirindatoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Ian Paulo de CastroIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty Joan M. EscalaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Majicel O. GondaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Cristalyn M. AtienzaIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Krezza Gem L. MacalintalIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Princess Janine R. SyIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Francheska Laurent L. FerarenIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Ronald Kevin L. MontellanoIBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Hospicio Icalla Laygo,Jr.IBP – Oriental Mindoro

Atty. Joel R. ButuyanChairperson, Center for International Law (CenterLaw)

Atty. Nicolene S. ArcainaBertha Justice Alumnx, Center for International Law (CenterLaw)

Atty. Shawn Dustin B. CoscolluelaBertha Justice Alumnx, Center for International Law (CenterLaw)

Atty. Sabrina Victoria M. DayaoBertha Justice Alumnx, Center for International Law (CenterLaw)

Atty. Selynn Alexis S. CoBertha Justice Fellow, Center for International Law (CenterLaw)
Atty. Justin Zosimo MendozaIBP-ZambalesAtty. John MenguitoManaging TrusteePhil. Earth Justice Center, Inc.
Atty. Kristin Joy  ArgallonPhil. Earth Justice Center, Inc.Atty. Keir Cedric L. EnriquezIBP – Batangas

Photo: Jilson Tiu for CEED