August 18, 2017
“Going abroad to be heard.” Bishop Paul Nguyên Thai Hopof the diocese of Vinh, visitsTaipei with the Victim Support Committee. Protests fueled by compensation criteria set by Vietnamese government and Formosa. The province of Nghệ An is excluded from the list of the four provinces affected under remuneration scheme.
Hanoi (AsiaNews August 16) – Bishop Paul Nguyên Thai Hop of the Vinh diocese (in Nghệ An’s north-central province) has led a delegation to Taiwan, where the multinational Formosa Plastics Group is headquartered. The committee led by the prelate advanced the claims and supports the cause of Vietnamese fishermen affected by the April 2016 sea disaster, which the Taiwanese company is responsible for.
The spillage of toxic sewage from a Formosa steel plant polluted more than 200 kilometers of coast along the coastal provinces of Central Vietnam. The approximately 12,000 cubic meters of poison spilled every day into sea waters caused the death of about 115 tonnes of fish. Over 40,000 fishermen and tour operators have been left unemployed since then, while the region’s economy has been brought to its knees. Formosa has paid US $ 500 million for the remediation and compensation of victims, but the sluggish and irregular payment of funds by the Vietnamese government has aroused the protests of citizens, which continue to organize their protests one year on from the tragedy.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Msgr. Nguyên spoke of the visit of the Support Committee for the victims of the Sea Disaster and the meeting with personalities involved in legal proceedings against Formosa for the environmental damage caused during the years in Taiwan. The bishop criticizes the “victim” attitude Formosa has taken in its country of origin and denounces the complicity of the Vietnamese government, which cooperates with the company to alleviate the impact of the compensation. Msgr Nguyên also recalls that many times the Hanoi authorities have come down hard on those who support the victims.
The Vinh Bishop explains that to date the number of people compensated exceeds that of those still waiting for payments. However, at the center of the Vietnamese Church’s protests are criteria for remuneration which it claims is not based on specific damage analysis, but on an agreement between the State and Formosa. Other points of disagreement is the exclusion of Nghệ An from the list of the four provinces that come under the compensation scheme (Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Tri and Thừa Thiên-Huế). “We raised the question with Nghệ An authorities – said the prelate – fortunately, they acknowledged that they were in debt with the population, but they still do not have the money to offset it. ” In addition, the sum of 500 million will only cover 2016. “And for the next few months?” asks Msgr. Nguyen.
The Church supports the affected populations and is engaged in numerous activities to defend their rights. Catholics of the provincial provinces of Vietnam, the most affected, have come to the forefront of the Vietnamese authorities because of their protests against the government for failing to assist the victims. Several members of the Catholic clergy and other activists have been harassed and arrested by the government. Regarding his visit to Taiwan, Msgr. Nguyên says he has not received any indication from his superiors. “There were no orders, but there is always a call from Catholic doctrines, especially from Pope John Paul. He calls on us to accompany the victims and the poor. Moreover, being the leaders of Vinh diocese, we can’t sit by and see people suffer. That’s why we went abroad to raise our voice, hoping that we can help with something. Moreover, I repeat that Formosa is very sly, they have a lot of money and power. Therefore, the issue is not whether we succeed or not, but that we can raise our voice for justice and help the victims realize that there is always someone standing by their side, desiring to do something for them.”