Vinh Diocese Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop led a delegation this month from his coastal region of Vietnam to Taiwan, home to Formosa Plastics Group's headquarters to seek redress for local fishermen affected by a marine disaster of April 2016. The toxic spill from a Formosa steel plant in central Vietnam polluted more than 125 miles of coastline along four coastal provinces and killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless. He spoke to RFA's Vietnamese service about his visit to Taiwan.
RFA: Tell us about your recent visit to Taiwan.
Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop: Our Marine Disaster Victim Support Committee has three or four people and there are also some others who currently live in Taiwan. In Taiwan, we met some lawyers, professors and members of civil society who are also in the process of litigation over the environmental disasters that Formosa caused in Taiwan itself over the years. I was so excited and happy about that trip. I also visited some villages which looked desolated and abandoned. Most of them are directly affected by the smoke from Formosa. What a tragedy when you actually get to see it! There were Taiwanese people, who perhaps were misinformed by Formosa. that the Vietnamese government forced Formosa to pay $500 million to people in Ky Anh, Vung Ang. Formosa tried to turn themselves into a victim. We explained that the Vietnamese government is cooperating with Formosa to alleviate the impact, moreover that many times the government has repressed supporters of the victims of Formosa.
RFA: Many people in the central provinces said that they have not received compensation. Did you mention that in your trip to Taiwan?
Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop: It is not right to say that most people have not received any money yet. The many victims who have already received compensation outnumber the ones who have not. The problem is that the state and Formosa decided that only the four provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien Hue would receive compensation, while Nghe An where people suffered a lot of impact, is not on the list. What is that list based on and why did the state and Formosa decide straight away the amount of compensation, and who would get compensated? We have raised the issue of justice to Nghe An authorities. Fortunately, the Nghe An authorities have acknowledged they owe Nghe An people, but they have no money to compensate yet. The problem is to ask Formosa as well as the authorities to pay compensation based on the specific damage analysis. In addition, the compensation is supposed to cover to the end of 2016, so then the question is what about after 2016?
RFA: When you talked about these matters with the people you met in Taiwan, did they give any comment?
Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop: We have learned a lot from the experience of the team of lawyers, and the professors, especially those at Taiwan University. They have spent years together with their students studying sea water, and smoke, to produce a scientific profile. I found that their profile is very well done, but Formosa is a really sly company. They hire lawyers who also use tricks to ask questions about the evidence Taiwanese scientists put out to continue the lawsuit. By mentioning this, I mean there are many things we can’t bring to court because Vietnam does not allow or facilitate any formal scientific research. Even now the state only claims the water to be clean or unclean using their own words for political benefits, which is not based on any scientific analysis. In a society where people’s freedom of expression is not recognized, it’s very hard to sue against a state-sponsored company. We are in a very unfavorable situation.
RFA: Going abroad to seek justice for Formosa victims in Vietnam, is that an order from your superiors? Why were you urged to do that?
Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop: 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.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman.