After nearly eight years, justice has been delayed and, hence, denied, for many people affected by the mudflow disaster stemming from gas drilling activities in the East Java regency of Sidoarjo. The Constitutional Court’s verdict favoring those affected last week has provided relief as it holds the state responsible for compensating those made to suffer without discrimination.
The Finance Ministry says it needs time to study the ruling, but as the court’s ruling is final and binding, the question now is when the people will have their rights fulfilled.
The unanimous decision to grant the plaintiffs’ demand for the revision of the 2013 state budget is a testament to the state’s failure, if not reluctance, to protect citizens afflicted by disaster. Siti Askabul Maimanah, Rini Arti, Sungkono, Dwi Cahyani, Tan Lanny Setyawati and Marcus Johny Ranny had challenged the state budget for not allocating compensation despite the severity of the mudflow damage.
Presidential Regulation No. 14/2007 requires PT Lapindo Brantas as the operator of the gas well to pay Rp 3.83 trillion (US$ 338 million) in compensation to residents of 12 villages near the epicenter of the disaster, Rp 3.04 trillion of which has been paid. The government, according to the regulation, is accountable for compensating residents outside those villages.
Whatever the motive behind the sharing of the burden between the government and Lapindo, partly owned by the family of Golkar Party chairman and presidential candidate Aburizal Bakrie, all the victims deserve compensation. Regardless of the government’s demarcation to divide the responsibility, all victims are entitled to equal treatment.
The court’s ruling provides legal certainty to mudflow victims of their right and justification for the government to push Lapindo to fulfill the compensation payments. Any attempt to buy time or negotiate the implementation of the verdict will amount to violation of the rule of law, which will only cost the government its credibility.
It is unlikely that the government will dare turn a deaf ear to the verdict. The political year will force President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration to do its utmost to take any measure possible to uphold the Constitution.
With or without pressure, the government bears the responsibility to protect people affected by a disaster, either natural or man-made, as soon as it strikes. The long road the six mudflow victims took to reach justice would not have happened if state protection was guaranteed in the first place.
The Supreme Court has unfortunately declared the mudflow in Sidoarjo a natural disaster, but as far as the Constitutional Court verdict is concerned, Lapindo cannot escape the responsibility of rehabilitating the lives of those displaced and the local economy hurt by the mudflow.
The mudflow disaster shows the price we have to pay for allowing politics to blur efforts to mitigate disaster, which is a matter of humanity.