July 14, 2008

Fishermen Asks Australian PM to Stop Oil Exploration in Central Philippines

Text of report in English by Philippine newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer website on 14 July

[Report by Jerome Aning: "Fishers ask Aussie PM to stop oil exploration"]

Manila, Philippines - A militant group of fishermen wants Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "persuade" oil exploration company, NorAsia Energy Ltd, to abort its planned oil and gas exploration in the Visayan Sea and the Cebu-Bohol Strait.

In an open letter to Rudd, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (National Strength of Movement of Fishers in the Philippines or Pamalakaya) said the air and water pollution as well as the noise resulting from the oil exploration would affect fish and other marine life in the area and could result in lean harvests for 100,000 small fishermen in the Visayan Sea.

Provinces straddling the Visayan Sea include Masbate, Biliran, Leyte, Cebu, Negros Occidental, Iloilo, and Capiz.

Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap told Rudd the offshore exploration posed "extreme danger" to the east Visayan Sea, which is a centre of marine biodiversity in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

"Honourable Prime Minister, we strongly oppose NorAsia's offshore mining in the Cebu-Bohol Strait and in the entire East Visayan basin because it will pave the way for the systematic gross destruction of the marine environment and the across-the-country massacre of fisher people's livelihood. The issues raised against offshore mining go beyond the context of profits and cost-benefit analysis," Hicap said.

The letter was sent to the House of Representatives of the Australian Federal Parliament in Canberra.

In a statement, Pamalakaya said they sent the letter after learning that NorAsia was able to secure a service contract from the Philippine government that would allow the Australian firm to explore 7,400 square kilometres of waters encompassing the Cebu- Bohol Strait and parts of Leyte in the East Visayan basin.

The group said the entire offshore activity would cover 445,000 hectares of marine waters over a seven-year period based on the agreement signed by NorAsia and its Filipino partner, TransAsia Oil and Energy Development Corp.

In the letter to Rudd, Pamalakaya asserted that many studies revealed that offshore mining caused a significant amount of air pollution.

Each offshore oil platform generates approximately 214,000 pounds of air pollutants each year. An average exploration well for natural gas could generate 50 tons of nitrogen oxide, 13 tons of carbon monoxide, six tons of sulphur dioxide, and five tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons.

It claimed that seismic tests, which are part of the exploration stage, damage the hearing organs of marine species, cause hemorrhage in body tissues, and damage their reproductive organs.

Pamalakaya said seismic blasting could also cause behavioural modification and reduce or eliminate available habitat for breeding, spawning, foraging, and migration. Seismic noises can alter fish distribution by tens of kilometres and can elicit physiological stress on neural-immune responses in marine organisms.

Pamalakaya warned that if NorAsia would push through with its offshore mining, it could lead to a dramatic decrease of 600,000 metric tons in the yearly production of fish in the country, or approximately 20 per cent annually.

It would affect the livelihood of no less than 100,000 small fishermen and 500,000 dependents, and further exacerbate the problem of food security of 87 million Filipinos, it said.

Originally published by Philippine Daily Inquirer website, in English 14 Jul 08.

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