“The issue of Tubbataha again underscores the problems with the Visiting Forces Agreement. A crime was committed against our country and yet the Philippine government could not even conduct its own investigation of the perpetrators.” – Bayan
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Aquino government received flak yet again for its action and attitude with regard to the grounded US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian. It is now more than one month since the minesweeper sailed into the no-sail zone, against radioed warnings by the park management.
Solving the problem of the grounded ship has moved slow as the US government tried first to salvage it. Then, more than two weeks since it ran aground, the US military decided to dismantle their minesweeper. Dismantling was first attempted three weeks into its grounding. By the fourth week, dismantling is yet to really start. Critics demanded to know how the US and the Philippine government plan to conduct it.
Until now the promised investigation into why a minesweeper could have “mis-navigated” into the protected reef is still without result, too. The Philippine Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, is reportedly still in the process of joining the investigation into why the minesweeper was there in shallow waters off Palawan. Isorena also said last week they had no information about the movement of the USS Guardian.
Protesters mark 1st month of USS grounding at Tubbataha Reef (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
Various groups marked the first month of the warship’s grounding by protesting at Plaza Ferguson in Manila, across the US Embassy. Facing at least three formations of truncheon-wielding policemen, plus a firetruck parked nearby, protesters condemned not only the US government but also the Philippine government. The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) assailed the Aquino government for failing to assert the country’s national interest and investigate the erring US Navy troops involved in the ship’s grounding.
“The issue of Tubbataha again underscores the problems with the Visiting Forces Agreement. A crime was committed against our country and yet the Philippine government could not even conduct its own investigation of the perpetrators. The US troops were simply allowed to leave the country and go back to their base in Japan,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes Jr.
Bayan took issue with the US government’s offer of assistance which they said is being “made to appear as a favor for which the Philippine government should be grateful.”
Reyes of Bayan accused the US government of trying to sidetrack issues with the VFA through “vague commitments of reparation.”
“This administration, instead of defending our rights as a state, even praised the US government for offering compensation for the damage they had done to our pristine corals in Tubbataha,” said Marc Lino Abila, national deputy secretary general of College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
In a statement, the League of Filipino Students commented in Filipino that “the interest of the Aquino government in the Tubbataha grounding is to mount a cover-up and allow the US to shirk responsibility in the destruction of Tubbataha.“
“First, the Aquino government allowed the US Navy on board the USS Guardian to leave the country; second, Aquino just stood by when the Philippine Coast Guard was unable to conduct its own investigation after the incident; third, it allowed the Philippines to have no role in the investigation, except as an observer, and it thoroughly relegated the investigation to the US, who is the perpetrator,” said Issa Baguisi, spokeswoman of Save Tubbataha Reef Network.
Youth protesters rue the continuing destruction of parts of protected reef, Feb 18 (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
Worse, rather than scale back the incursion of environmentally destructive US warships in Philippine territory, Noynoy Aquino committed another “deplorable” act, said environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) on the third week of the warship’s grounding. The green group condemned President Benigno Aquino III for welcoming US Ambassador Harry Thomas’ suggestion to post US Navy guards in the Tubbataha Reef Park. Purportedly this is to aid the rehabilitation of the area ran aground by the warship USS Guardian.
“How could the highest leader of the land even entertain the idea of allowing the US Navy to guard Tubbataha, when it was their personnel who violated our law and destroyed our reefs? Conceding to the US Ambassador’s suggestion escapes logic, and reaches a new height of stupidity and puppetry,” Kalikasan National Coordinator Clemente Bautista said in a statement.
Suspicious US military activities in Philippine seas
Bayan raised concern the US troops may have already destroyed critical information on board the USS Guardian when they abandoned ship during the first few days of the incident. It is only now Malacañang is reportedly seeking information from the US government such as the deck log book that records every action on the bridge, information on the heading of the ship if it changed course, the maps, engine logbook, and the global positioning system.
“The high-tech equipment on board the Guardian may have been destroyed upon orders of the commanding officer when the crew abandoned ship. Such information should have been acquired and preserved on day one. It is only now that the Philippine government is requesting the documents. It may already be too late,” Reyes of Bayan said. He charged that that early, a cover-up may have already been set in motion.
As in most activities of US troops in Philippine territory, and their agreements with the Philippine government, information about it all remain hidden from the Filipino public.
Phl President Noynoy Aquino criticized for puppetry to US, Feb 18 (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
From day 1 of the USS Guardian’s grounding, questions had been raised as to why it had sailed there. Few bought the US Navy’s earliest excuse that the minesweeper could have ‘mis-navigated.’
“It defies logic,” UP Prof. Roland Simbulan told Bulatlat.com. Simbulan has written books on US military presence and activities in the Philippines. He said that the USS Guardian, a minesweeper, is expected to have the capability to detect things underwater.
The more logical reason for the ship’s presence off Palawan, near the disputed south China Sea (or West Philippine Sea) and trade route of American businesses in the region, is the likelihood that it may be installing underwater sonar there, said Simbulan.
Like an underwater CCTV, Simbulan said this would further enable the US to secure for itself the Asia-Pacific trade route that their corporations have been using. He said it would also bolster the US military’s surveillance in the area and thus the operations of the US Seventh Fleet.
Simbulan explained that radars and satellites are “blind” underwater. Despite the pivot of US troops to the region, it may miss submarines from its enemies or rivals.
Indeed, one of the US military’s defined priorities is putting in place its maritime security plan in the region.
Supporting the idea that the US government may be installing surveillance gadgets under Philippine waters, such as near Tubbataha Reef, are its previously announced plans to install one of its powerful radars for missiles in the Philippines.
On top of that, when Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino visited the US last year, he went home with “commitments” from the US that it will finance the construction of a National Coast Watch Center, as well as provide for its staff and training. The location of the would-be center is yet unknown, but it is touted to watch the Philippine coastline 24/7.
Also, bolstering the likelihood the US military is installing something in the waters off Palawan is US Ambassador Thomas’ proposal last week for the US Navy to offer “security and communication equipment.” This is supposedly for securing the Tubbataha area and avoiding future marine accidents in the national park.
This has led green group Kalikasan last week to conclude that “a conspiracy is unfolding before us.” In their estimates, the US military was not just installing sonars when they got blown into Tubbataha.
“First the US Navy trespassed and stuck into Tubbataha; second, the US as a sign of ‘goodwill’ wants to install security facilities in the area; third they say their salvaging operation will last until the end of 2013; and now they want to deploy US military forces to guard the whole park.” Bautista of Kalikasan PNE said it is obvious the real interest of the US is to establish a naval base in Tubbataha and control the reef area.
US military presence expected to intensify
Simbulan told Bulatlat.com the four-fold rise in docking and port calls of US warships in 2012 is bound to continue and increase further. Aside from the geopolitical importance of the Philippines as the US gateway to the region, Simbulan said the US troops are “more at ease here” both for their rest and recreation and for their use of military facilities that they themselves had built according to their specifications.
As reports show, US troops are using again their former military bases and installations in the Philippines. Even the airport in General Santos City, where the US has an unacknowledged military base, was reportedly built by known US military bases’ contractors.
US troops are more at ease in the Philippines because they are very welcome to the Philippine government, Simbulan said. Also, after more than a century of US colonial and then semi-colonial rule, most Filipinos have been westernized, he said, further contributing to US troop’s preference for R & R in the country.
This is not to say other government leaders in the Philippines’ Asian neighbors are more jealous or protective of their sovereignty, Simbulan hastened to add. He said “US troops may just be trying to avoid stirring up trouble in other less westernized countries.” According to Simbulan, predominantly Muslim nations might become radicalized by unresolved cases of rape or worsening of prostitution.