Should they stay

Or should they go?

Erap had spoken. The current City Fathers of Manila have given the three oil majors up to 2016 to vacate the Pandacan oil depot.  After so many legal battles and public opinion skirmishes through many changes of city administrations, it would seem, again, that Manila has spoken with finality.

What Justice?

But one must again ask, where is the justice in all this? Is justice on the side of the thousands of residents of Pandacan who, no doubt, have benefited, historically, from the collateral business such a big and busy business facility generates? Is justice serving those residents who complain about the existence of a major fire and health hazard, despite oil depot meeting all international oil industry fire and environmental standards? Never mind if many of the lean-toos and wooden structures around the oil depot are more of a fire hazard themselves.

Justice for whom?

Or is justice on the side of the City coffers, who benefited for close to a century of oil company business related taxes, not to mention, the out of pocket development costs that the oil majors spent on the surroundings ever since they pioneered their location to these mosquito infested marshes of river side Pandacan.

Any rights for those who came first?

We will only know whose side justice is on when the courts decide, at the end of all the appeals and countersuits. For once, picture yourself on the side of the “Big Oil'. Having established the oil depot in Pandacan during a time when no one even lived there, where is the justice of asking them to leave, ostensibly because they are a nuisance or a risk to their johnny-come-lately neighbors?

Economy: City's gain, National loss

Did justice consider the collateral damage? What then happens to the bulk oil barge transport industry, as indeed there is one?  How would it impact the national price of fuel considering there are several knock on effects to both oil supply and demand distribution? 

Problems under the earth

Then there is a greater, underlying threat, beyond what the eye sees. The departure of the oil depot from Pandacan also means the death of the age old Batangas-Manila pipeline, as all that oil flow will have nowhere to terminate. Consider that there is probably no space large enough to accommodate repositioning the oil depot on anywhere along the route of the pipeline right of way. Remember also that keeping that pipeline working keeps the refineries out in the countryside while the locus of fuel distribution in Pandacan is as close as possible to the country's largest concentration of oil consumers.

Killing the pipeline

Case in point; when the fracas over the oil pipeline leak, caused by the weakened DPWH pavement of the SLEx, started a few years ago, the oil transport industry needed 400 tanker truck trips a day to cover for the oil flow that was temporarily closed by court order. Imagine what these increased truck trips would do to traffic, which the truck ban is trying to mitigate? It doesn't take rocket science to figure out the domino effect of what all this will do to fuel prices, nationwide.

Big Oil vs. little residents?

All this, for what? Appeasing the complaints of thousands of irate residents? It's all nice and melodramatic for pundits to paint this as a fight between “Big Oil” against little residents, with the city government responsibly and nobly taking up the cudgels for its citizens. But there's more to it than it meets the eye. 

Big Oil vs. Big Land

This is more a fight between Big Oil and Big Land, as in real estate developers. Naturally, the city fathers, unwitting proxies of Big Land, are enticed by the increased cash flow that real estate developers eyeing Pandacan are dangling. No wonder one hardly hears a peep of protest from the legitimate Left, the self appointed spokesman for the underprivileged masses. Environmental issues are only the red herring, the false cover of the real estate prize. Then, is justice now all about giving in to the highest bidder?

Greenfield vs. Brownfield

If environment is truly the main issue why the oil depot must go, then whatever replaces it must be environmentally sound. No problem putting up a mixed residential-commercial complex and mall if Pandacan was a greenfield site, raw land or ex-residential land. But it is not. Its best classified as a brownfield site. Pretty much like the NDC industrial compound of warehouses and empty factory hangars that are on the other side of the Pasig River. 

What lies beneath

Generally, there is nothing environmentally wrong with brownfield sites. But an ex-oil depot with a live pipeline, and right next to a river, to boot? Is the ground of the oil depot environmentally sound, considering its life as an oil depot? Lord knows what lies beneath the soil of all those huge tank farms and even under those fire mitigation berms. 

Rockwell's lead

When MERALCO's Rockwell was converted from a working power plant to a residential-commercial zone, the area was left fallow and unused for some 20 years to allow nature to restore the ecological balance of the ground. The huge underground storage tank was incorporated to form part of Power Plant Mall's underground parking.

Genuinely pro-environment?

If the exit of the oil depot from Pandacan for genuine environmental reasons is a fait accompli, then we will grudgingly “grin and bear” the resulting traffic problems and higher fuel price that this will entail. In exchange, the City fathers of Manila should do more than just pay lip service to Pandacan's environmental concerns.

The challenge to prove environmental sincerity

To prove this, the City should require the interested party that will develop the ex-oil depot site, to make the place a no-build zone for the next 20 years. The developer can turn it into a park, stage some concerts, allow a few weekend flea markets, but no permanent ground disturbing construction. Manila may never recover the lost tax income from the oil companies, but it should at least pay for securing the area – if the real estate developer is willing to invest in a 20-year no build zone. Lest the area becomes a tempting and unplanned relocation center for informal settlers. That will be a zero-income proposition for the City but who knows, a whole new batch of informal settlers is always a vote rich gold mine for any politician running for office in the City of Manila.