PCG personnel and fish wardens in Brgy. Manamoc, Cuyo, rush to install improvised oil spill booms out of used clothing and plastic bottles to prevent a potential oil spill from reaching the marine protected area. | Photo from Jack on Facebook

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) District Palawan commander Captain Dennis Rem Labay said there is no presence of an oil spill in Palawan contrary to reports and posts by citizens on social media.

Labay told local media on Monday afternoon that after receiving reports of alleged oil spill traces in Agutaya, the PCG’s Maritime Environment Protection Unit (MEPU) participated in an aerial inspection conducted by the Western Command (WESCOM) and Tactical Operations Wing West (TOW West), but found no indications in the municipality’s waters or shores.

He claimed that the aerial survey encompassed the Agutaya area, that they then traveled up to Culion to inspect, and that “as far as their eyes can see, they found nothing.”

Aside from Agutaya and its nearby town of Cuyo, coast guard personnel in Magsaysay, Cagayancillo, Araceli, Coron, Dumaran, Taytay, Culion, Linapacan, and Busuanga conducted foot patrol operations to monitor their respective areas, but no oil spill traces were found, he added.

Capt. Dennis Rem Labay of the PCG District Palawan speaks to the local media on Monday regarding claims that the oil spill in Mindoro has reached Palawan.

On the basis of the preliminary assessment, he explained, the purported oil discovered by locals was likely contaminated waste products that were swept ashore by waves.

“As of yesterday, there were reports from barangays Concepcion and Algeciras, and apparently, what they saw there were from waste materials that got contaminated with oil and we still have to check if it is the same with the oil coming from the spill in Mindoro,” he said.

“And the oil that was collected in the beach area is less than 1 liter,” he added.

On the basis of a scale model of the trajectory of the oil spill from a ship that sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, which was released by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), he stated that “the drift of possible spill is that by March 7, it could reach the vicinity of Agutaya and Cuyo” and by March 12, it could reach the Araceli and Dumaran area.

“But we don’t expect that to happen,” Labay said.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of evidence of an oil spill and the trajectory provided by UP MSI, they have already established contingency measures in case it reaches the northeastern island settlements of Agutaya and Cuyo.

He said personnel of the coast guard station already met with officials from the local government for contingency measures.

“Right now, our personnel needs are already deployed and prepared to respond according to our standard procedures. And of course, together with the local government unit (LGU), we are pinning our hopes in the response of residents in the area, particularly the fisherfolk,” he explained.

“But as of now, it’s safe to say that there is no oil spill and we are hoping that the trajectory will change but depending on the weather,” he added.

Agutaya residents have actually prepared improvised spill booms made out of used clothes and empty water bottles to contain the oil.

In Brgy. Manamoc, Cuyo, residents have also cordoned the their 108.05-hectare marine protected area (MPA) with improvised “oil spiller lines,” with help from coast guard personnel.

Aside from the improvised materials, Labay said they have already dispersed three drums of oil dispersant that will be sprayed should the spill reach the shorelines but added that because of lack of personnel and equipment, a manual cleanup will still have to be done.

He also said that more importantly, they are hoping that the spill will not affect the livelihood of residents.

“One of our worries right now is the seaweeds plantation there,” he said.