No big headlines on the recent oil spill from Chevron’s fuel terminal in Bacolod City some 300 kms south of Manila. And rightly so. Only about 100 litres of bunker fuel were discharged covering an 80-square metre area. Three days after the pipeline leakage began on 6th July, the company announced that it had plugged the leak and cleaned up the spill with dispersants. It was a minor incident but it does point to a major problem that needs to be addressed by newly installed President Benigno (“Noynoy”) Aquino III.

Chevron blamed the leak on pilferers who had stolen parts of a 20-metre pipeline containing old bunker fuel residue (the Bacolod depot is due to be dismantled soon). This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Oil pilferage in varied forms is fairly common in the country. The usual modus operandi is to transfer the fuel from a tanker to a smaller vessel alongside in the open sea with the use of submersible pumps. Sometimes the fuel is illegally siphoned off from a shore facility under cover of darkness and transferred directly to a tanker.

The rather graphic Tagalog term for this criminal activity is “paihi” – a combination of the root word “ihi” (urinate in English) and the verb affix “pa” (meaning, to cause, get or allow someone to do what the root word indicates). The implication is that the pilferage takes place with the participation of the tanker’s crew. Eventually, some of the pilfered fuel is peddled in plastic containers in towns and cities outside Metro Manila.

Just as pernicious is the theft of navigational aids or their components. Thieves are said to be behind the loss of some high-tech (solar- and wave-powered) buoys installed in 2005 along the entrance channel of the Manila North Harbor. They were not after the buoys themselves but the long and heavy mooring chains, which can fetch a hefty sum when sold for scrap. The upshot: night-time navigation has, in the absence of lighted buoys, become a dangerous proposition for ships calling at the country’s main domestic cargo and passenger terminal.

The thievery at sea is deplorable enough, but there’s more of it on land. In Metro Manila, thieves are known to prey on victims of road accidents as they lie unconscious or dead inside their vehicles. This form of stealing is obscene. So is the avid stealing that goes on in government. The latter actually poses the greater challenge to the Aquino administration. If both the rulers and the ruled covet and take what is not theirs, what hope is there for change? ~Barista Uno

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