By John Paolo J. Bencito
Many may criticize Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada for the tumultuous changes he has done in the capital city – phasing out buses to avoid traffic, contentious daytime truck bans, penalizing higher rates for traffic violators and much, much more.
But it is undeniable that he has the political will to execute his programs, and it may prove to be a much needed trait to prevent environmental hazards.
We all know that “lack of political will” is the culprit of all poorly performing anti-corruption programs. The ever-complex concept of political will also applies on how you can move mountains, or in the case of the City of Manila – oil depots.
Just recently, the never-ending debacle on whether or not the oil depot in Pandacan district should stay or not may come to an ultimate close as Mayor Erap reaffirms Ordinance No. 8283, which orders the Big 3 – Pilipinas Shell, Petron, and Chevron Philippines to move out of the city by January 2016.
The long scuffle on the issue of the hundred-year stay of the oil depots in the highly-populated city substantially flip-flopped over the years, even reaching the high courts.
Oil depot removal
The oil depot in Pandacan, Manila occupies 33 hectares of land and 313 million liters of gasoline, diesel, bunker oil, LPG, aviation jet fuel and other highly toxic and hazardous chemicals.
The facility supplies 1,800 fuel stations in Metro Manila and nearby provinces; 70 percent of the shipping industry’s fuel requirements; 90 percent of lubricants nationwide; and 75 percent of aviation fuel needs in the country.
The continued operation of the oil depot in a densely populated major city has been a subject of various concerns, including its environmental and health impact to the residents of the adjacent community surrounding the compound, as well as to the larger Manila population.
Various incidents such as in 1999 where the First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC) pipeline running from Batangas to Pandacan was accidentally punctured resulting in an explosion and fire that gutted hundreds of houses and commercial establishments in Muntinlupa City.
The recent oil leakage from the same pipeline in Bangkal, Makati City on July 2010 also caused more than a hundred families to be evacuated because of the toxic fumes leaking from the said facility.
These issues have been raised to the possibility that the same would happen to the oil depot, if not relocated.
Moreover, the University of the Philippines College of Medicine conducted a study and found out that the number of cases of neurophysical disorders in Pandacan have been progressively increasing.
Another health survey proved that the air in and surrounding the oil depot contains high levels of Benzene – a highly volatile compound known to increase the risk of cancer and wreaks havoc on the nervous, respiratory and immune systems.
Furthermore, certain predictions of experts that disaster may come now and within 50 years, such as magnitude 7.2 earthquakes, will put lives and properties of Manileños in grave danger if the oil depot remains within the city limits.
The continued stay of the oil depot in Pandacan poses a clear and present danger to health, lives, and properties of Manileños.
Meanwhile, proposals and demands from oil companies suggest that such removal can result to a shortage of oil products. In addition, they assert that the price of oil products would have to be raised.
Shut down by 2016
After a long battle, unresolved by 3 administrations for more than a decade, efforts to close down the oil depot of multinational firms in Pandacan, Manila, have finally borne fruit.
On April 3, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada signed letters to Chevron, Petron, and Shell, instructing them to submit their “comprehensive plan and relocation schedule,” as he wants them out by January 31, 2016, or 5 months before his first term as city mayor ends.
Environment groups such as Advocates for Environment and Social Justice (AESJ) based in Pandacan, Manila has actively campaigned for the steadfast and consistent call for the relocation of the oil depot outside of Manila.
This is because of the unimaginable danger and threat it poses to the district of Pandacan, the entire city and nearby towns.
As of now, Petron and Chevron made a commitment that they will relocate before January 2016 in compliance with Manila City Ordinance No. 8283, and will cooperate with the on-going efforts by advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, Shell will wait for the result of their petition before the Makati Regional Trial Court before resolving onto the letter by Mayor Estrada.
The long standing issue to boot the oil depot out of Manila would not be a reality if not for collective action by environment groups and Erap’s re-affirmation.
“Urban renewal” was part of the former President’s 5-point campaign agenda during his 2013 bid for the mayoralty, slamming his 84-year-old predecessor.
He promised that the city council would help push for the passage of ordinances on education, health, and housing.