Various national government agencies have come together to draw up a harmonized recovery plan for areas in MIMAROPA and Western Visayas regions affected by the oil spill from MT Princess Empress that sank in the waters of Oriental Mindoro almost two months ago.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) spearheaded an activity held at its central office in Quezon City on April 19 to harmonize the recovery plans of different national government agencies with the overall goal of addressing the oil spill’s intersecting impacts to the people, environment, tourism, and the local economy.

In leading the inter-agency discussion, DENR Secretary Antonia Loyzaga said the recovery plan must be consistent with the “whole-of-government” approach espoused by the Marcos administration in responding to the oil spill disaster.

“We have a convergence framework where we look at each of our mandate, at the point of how we can support the building of resilience for inclusive and sustainable activities,” Loyzaga said.

The DENR chief said the recovery plan should “not only look at bouncing back, but bouncing forward” as it must guarantee resiliency of communities and ecosystems.

The activity was co-headed by Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco and Defense Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno, who serves as the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and administrator of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

In her opening remarks, Frasco reported that over 1,600 workers dependent on tourism had already been deprived of their livelihood due to the oil spill.

She expressed full support for a cohesive approach on tourism development that is sustainable and regenerative.

With the OCD as one of the main agencies leading the recovery efforts, Nepomuceno recognized that scientific approach is crucial in these initiatives, thus, the NDRRMC and OCD will seek more accurate guidance from science-based agencies, such as the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) whose representative was also present in the activity.

To provide inputs for the succeeding discussion, Senior Ecosystems Management Specialist Jhorace Tupas of the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau presented the latest results of the Rapid Biodiversity Assessments in Oriental Mindoro and Palawan for MIMAROPA and Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique for Western Visayas, indicating potential threats to marine life and mangrove ecosystem.

The second part of her presentation was on the initial economic value of coastal and marine ecosystems within the affected provinces. Other agencies suggested that this valuation is a possible area of collaboration for data enrichment done through inclusion of other sectors and data sharing.

These information are proven to be vital, especially for the ongoing case build-up by the Department of Justice, which during the discussion underscored the importance of handling the collected pieces of evidence and the documents that need to be preserved, as these will be used in pursuit of legal remedies.

Among the suggestions for consideration in the recovery plan are the conduct of a post-disaster needs assessment to ensure effective, efficient and relevant recovery plan with trained people to assess the damage and loss, and determination of accurate fund requirements and sources, not just for the recovery plan but also for rehabilitation.

Other recommendations include the need to improve communication protocols to translate scientific information into clear, accurate, and simple information for the public; ensuring learning continuity vis-à-vis health status of learners and teachers; setting of specific indicators for normalcy for different sectors such as fisherfolk and tourists; and addressing mental health of affected individuals.

Other agencies represented were the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Energy, the National Economic and Development Authority, and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Aside from the harmonization activity, the agencies are expected to present their reports and plans to the NDRRMC in a meeting slated last April 20. #