Oil depot faces closure - again

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 12:00am

Pending a last-minute legal reprieve, the Pandacan oil depot in Manila - which supplies almost half the country's fuel needs - will be shut down today over concerns it could be a prime target for a terrorist attack.

Energy Secretary Vincent Perez had warned that shutting down the depot, located near the presidential palace, would trigger a shortage and push up fuel prices nationwide as it supplies 90 per cent of the fuel requirements for Metro Manila and 11 surrounding provinces.

The 80-year-old depot is being used by the country's three biggest oil companies - Petron, Caltex and Pilipinas Shell. But it happens to be a stone's throw away from Malacanang Palace and is surrounded by a congested community, making it an ideal target for terrorists, according to residents and Manila city mayor Lito Atienza, who wants the facility closed.

The depot's permit to operate was due to expire today, but Mr Atienza said the city council would not renew it because it felt the oil companies were not sincere in their promise to address the residents' health and safety concerns.

Eighteen months ago, Manila and the presidential office had wanted the sprawling facility relocated outside the capital. Oil companies, however, balked at the millions of dollars in transfer costs.

Last June, in a compromise agreement, the oil companies agreed to demolish 28 storage tanks - a 40 per cent reduction in capacity - and create a 'buffer zone' within six months. However, only 14 of the 28 tanks had been demolished in January.

With the looming US attack on Iraq at the time, the national government said the oil depot's continued operation was critical to national security.

Mr Atienza yesterday said they had given the oil companies nine months to comply, but 'they seem to have done things the easier way, in a convenient and slow manner'. So today, their operations would be deemed illegal, he said.

'If the situation does not change, we will have to padlock it and disallow the distribution of [petrol] from this point because the law is very clear,' he said.

Mr Perez defended the firms, saying they have substantially complied, as the removal of tanks 'cannot be done overnight'.

Lawyers for the oil firms rushed to court yesterday to obtain a temporary restraining order to keep the depot open. A court decision on their petition is expected today.