By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© Journal Group Link International)
CHICAGO (jGLi) – Two weeks ago, 12 Philippine senators, including my friend former President Joseph Estrada, got together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 12-11 vote, rejecting the U.S. Military Bases in the Philippines.
While I applaud them for their nationalism, I feel that they were like the Monkey in the fable Jose Rizal wrote about the Monkey and the Turtle.
As you know, in the fable, the Monkey gave the Turtle the choice of the manner of death he would deal on the Turtle — the Turtle would either be pounded into pieces in a mortar (lusong) or he would be tossed to the river. Of course, the Turtle tricked the stupid Monkey by choosing the mortar because the Turtle did not want to drown in the river.
When the 12 senators padlocked the U.S. bases, they did not tack a rider on the rejection – the termination of the agreement would be contingent on the U.S. clean-up of the bases of their toxic wastes.
It was like telling the renter of your apartment to take with him all the unsightly furniture before the renter turns in the key to the apartment owner. Because our jolly senators forgot or overlooked this expensive environmental hazardous clean-up, it will now be the responsibility of the present Philippine Congress to appropriate $102-Billion to survivors of deceased victims of toxic contamination caused by hazardous substances stored and used in Clark and Subic military bases. A similar demand was also served on the Philippine government in the amount of 52-billion pesos (US$1.2-billion) for neglect and refusal to deal with incidents of deaths and illness of the victims, who worked and lived in the two U.S. military bases in a class suit pending before the Regional Trial Court in Pampanga.
LEUKEMIA AND CANCER FROM TOXIC WASTE
There have been reports of leukemia and cancer being caused by toxic contamination of drinking water. At least 80 deaths were reported, resulting from drinking contaminated water at the Clark “motorpool.”
The United States cannot be compelled to pay up because it is not a signatory to the 1989 Basel Convention that penalizes countries that are responsible for risk of damage to human health and environment caused by hazardous wastes while the Philippines is a signatory.
So, the “Magnificent 12” actually let the U.S. go like the Monkey did to the wily Turtle.
If the Philippine Congress wants to go on a damage control mode, it better adopt a U.S. law called Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), requiring companies to provide information about their potentially toxic chemicals, if it has not yet done so.
EPCRA was the result of the U.S. Congressional hearings triggered by the leak of a cloud of lethal methyl isocyanate in a 1984 Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India that caused the death of 2,000 people while they were sleeping and another 8,000, who died later. The Union Carbide paid $470-M in damages.
Among the features of EPCRA is a requirement for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish hazardous materials placard system to help emergency responders to know what they are dealing with.
Rail cars and trucks carrying toxic or dangerous materials must display a diamond-shaped sign having on it a material identification number, which can be looked up to determine what hazardous materials are on board, and a hazardous class number and symbol that tells whether the contents are flammable, explosive, corrosive, etc. Color codes also convey instant information: blue (health), red (flammability), yellow (reactivity) and white (special notice).
The placard system is as follows: Hazard class 1, explosives; Hazard class 2, gases (nonflammable, flammable, toxic gas, oxygen, inhalation hazard); Hazard class 3, Flammable liquids; Hazard class 4, Flammable solids (spontaneous combustible, dangerous when wet); Hazard class 5, oxidizer and organic peroxide; Hazard class 6, toxic/poisonous and infectious substances; Hazard class 7, radioactive; Hazard 8, corrosive; and Hazard class 9, miscellaneous dangerous goods.
The absence of these placards from a chemical tanker that split into three in Barangay Pange, Matnog, Sorsogon in the Philippines at about 2 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2011 is giving authorities a hard time on how to deal with the accident.
It took Pange Barangay Chairman Fernando Genavia and Barangay Kagawad Ruel Genavia two weeks on Oct. 6 to report to Dr. Rossana Galeria, municipal health officer of Matnog and Matnog Mayor Emilio G. Ubaldo after telling the Matnog Sanitary Inspector that many cases of diarrhea and epigastric pain had occurred following the tanker explosion.
According to accounts, the tanker broke down along the highway of Barangay Pange and split three ways and its unknown liquid contents spilling into nearby trees and ground. Without knowing what the content was, the residents collected the liquid as fuel for cooking and lamps.
Typhoon “Pedring” washed the chemicals on Sept. 25 and 26 to the inner part of the forest and into the river. The trees and grass on the path of the liquid had died and turned brown, including the algae in the riverbed. Fishes died.
Residents had complained of caustic smell from the river and some had diarrhea. Although decontamination is being conducted among residents, the residents do not want to cooperate.
With a population of 520, the barangay residents are mostly indigents, depending on farming for their livelihood. Because hundreds of vehicles, including chemical tankers, are passing by the barangay everyday on the way to and from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, more hazardous materials are likely to be spilled in the area.
If the Philippines has EPCRA in place and there is hazardous materials placard system, a rapid response team in the municipality created by the law would have been notified by the residents to report the accident, mentioning the number of the placard and extent of the spill as there is threshold of spills to report (say 1,000 pounds of Sulfuric Acid are spilled) as test results of the contents would be taking weeks to find out.
It is just like calling police during emergency.