A study by Kalikasan PNE revealed that the presence of US forces in the Asia Pacific region has resulted in adverse environmental impact.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The grounding of the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park a year ago, which resulted in the destruction of at least 2,435 hectares of vital coral reefs, is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the environmental impact of the presence of US troops, environmentalist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said in a statement. The group conducted an assessment of the environmental track record of US military forces in the Philippines and across the Asia-Pacific region and they arrived at this conclusion.
“Aside from issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Tubbataha Reef grounding, Oyster Bay naval base construction and other recent controversies in which the US Navy and military forces figured have brought to public attention the environmental impact that increased presence and activity of US forces can bring,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
Environmental crimes and threats across the Pacific
The green groups’ assessment detailed the following adverse ecological impact of the presence of US troops in the Philippines and across the Asia-Pacific region:
• Recent and long-standing incidences of toxic and hazardous waste dumping in the former US bases, the most recent of which was the dumping of four (4) million liters of bilge water and sewage in Subic Bay last October 2012;
• The ongoing construction of a US-South Korean naval base over Jeju Island, a historically and culturally important island that is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and home to different world heritage sites;
• The use of different islands in the Pacific for weapons testing, including testing of nuclear devices, and for dumping various toxic wastes, such as in Wake Island, Saipan, Johnston Atoll, and Guam;
• The recent jettisoning of four bombs, two inert and two unarmed, onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during a training exercise by US Navy planes last July 2013;
• The long-standing, numerous track records on toxic waste dumping in US bases in Japan, and the threat of an airbase relocation to a reef site that is a known habitat of the rare Dugong species.
People’s Responses: ban the bases, drive out US troops
In South Korea and Japan, locals have been reported as chafing at the presence and now, expansion of US bases in their areas. South Koreans, for example, have reportedly been opposing the construction of another US bases in their precious Jeju Island, but now contractors for the US military are reportedly already dredging the bio-diversity rich tourist area.
But zeroing in on the Philippine experience, the Kalikasan PNE assessment took note of various stakeholders’ responses to the environmental impact of US military presence in the region. Responses from both the US and Philippine governments were clearly lacking, they found out, as shown in the non-payment of compensation for the various affected environments as in Tubbataha Reef and Subic Bay, among others.
“There is no excuse for the U.S government not to come up with the P58 million fine (for Tubbataha grounding), when it is able to spend $682 billion for its military last year. It even spent $45 million in salvaging its warship – P58 million is but a drop,” said the youth leader Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan in another statement.
Various environmental groups and social movements have intensified opposition to US rebasing in PH and the Asia-Pacific. Legal actions such as the Writ of Kalikasan petition were filed against US troops and their military operations, while various unities against US bases were aired at length and forged at the International Conference on US Bases in July last year,” Dulce of Kalikasan PNE said.
The group reported that a people’s unity statement was also circulated last year opposing the rebasing and other onerous military agreements of US, immediate compensation for the environmental destruction and toxic impact they brought, and the achievement of peace and security in the region’s seas through peaceful, diplomatic means.
“The Aquino government, which has defended the VFA and the de facto rebasing, must address the growing national and global public concern over the environmental implications of US troops’ presence in the country and region,” Dulce said. He reasoned that after all, the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology is also a matter of national interest.