Until now, the Obama administration has not yet responded to the Supreme Court order to explain the US side on the Tubbataha incident. This shows “the US government’s disrespect for our justice system and its indifference on how we assert our sovereignty.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As representatives of the Aquino and the Obama governments rush to finish an agreement seeking to legalize increased US military bases, facilities, installations, access, etc. in the Philippines, green groups raised the alarm over its dire implications on the Philippine environment. Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment cited the still unresolved violations of Philippine environmental laws by US troops here as just some of the compelling reasons why the Philippine government must stop railroading the conclusion of this new military basing agreement.
Without closure to these infractions, the green groups led by the Kalikasan PNE warned, more damages could befall the country and, as experiences show, there would be no restitution, rehabilitation nor justice.
The latest and most controversial example of these violations by US troops is the trespassing, grounding and damages caused to the Tubbataha Reef by USS Guardian, a guided minesweeper.
On April 17, the Writ of Kalikasan petition filed with the Supreme Court on the Tubbataha grounding case turns one year old. Yet, the Supreme Court still has to act or respond meaningfully to the case.
“The Supreme Court has allowed the Tubbataha grounding case to languish in court, severely hampering efforts to significantly rehabilitate the 2,345 square-meter scar caused by the USS Guardian in the world heritage site,” Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said in a statement sent to media on April 15.
The high court’s inaction is setting an unfortunate “precedent for impunity by US forces towards our people and the environment,” Dulce added.
Kalikasan PNE is one of the petitioners in a series of legal actions filed with the Supreme Court (SC) since last year. They are calling for immediate indemnification for the damaged pristine coral reefs in Tubbataha, a series of temporary environmental protection orders on the operations of US military personnel in the country, and the formulation and implementation of environmental guidelines that will govern US military activities and exercises.
‘Irregular’ silence of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court’s rules of procedure for environmental cases require rendering a judgment within 60 days from the time the petition was submitted for decision. It is a day to one year now since the Writ of Kalikasan and subsequent petitions were filed, but the Supreme Court has still to explain why it has delayed making a decision on the case, said Dulce of Kalikasan PNE.
This delay is “highly irregular”, and it defeats the purpose of having a timely intervention in a concern that threatens the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology,” added Dulce.
The delay appears to stem also from a continuing snub by the US government of the Philippine court’s order for it to reply to the Writ of Kalikasan petition on Tubbataha.
Until now, the Obama administration has not yet responded to the Philippine Supreme Court order to explain the US side on the Tubbataha incident, Kalikasan PNE said. According to Dulce, this shows “the US government’s disrespect for our justice system and its indifference on how we assert our sovereignty.”
If favourably decided upon by the Supreme Court, the Tubbataha petition will not only compel the Obama administration to compensate the damages on the world heritage site, it will also impose environmental protection orders on US military operations until environmental guidelines and regulations governing the activities of foreign troops are put in place.
All these are deemed important as the Aquino government is “railroading” a new US base access agreement, according to Kalikasan PNE. Along with the looming influx of even more US troops, US warships and warplanes traversing Philippine grounds, waters and skies are the increased vulnerabilities as well for “environmental crimes and disasters that historically come in their wake.”
Legalizing by semantics what the Constitution has prohibited?
The agreement being crafted by a panel from the US and Ph governments, called AEDC (Agreement for Enhanced Defense Cooperation), reportedly seeks to open the country’s military camps and facilities to the increased presence of US troops, their facilities and war materiel, “with no clear duration, and with no measures for accountability and regulation,” according to Kalikasan PNE.
After some rounds of negotiations, the Philippine panel held press conferences or issued statements claiming these were in the name of transparency. But up to now, the provisions and issues under negotiations are still shrouded in mystery.
The Philippine panel headed by Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino has even admitted that they started negotiations without a draft of their own, as such they had agreed on important points before they drafted their own “proposals” as their US counterpart had told them to do.
Where the US will locate their camps, how large these would be, how much arms and ammunitions they would bring, if these were nuclear-armed, nuclear-tipped, nuclear-powered, etc, how long troops would remain before another batch arrives, are so far not discussed yet to Filipinos.
Meanwhile, reports are already streaming out that even as the agreement on the parameters of this hosting of US pivot is still being crafted, the Aquino government is already rushing to build, upgrade or expand its military camps and bases to accommodate more US troops, warships and their other equipment.
Environmental advocates point to the naval base construction in Oyster Bay as an example. The base would be built by the Philippine government with a budget of more than P500 million. It would be located at an inner water body within the resource and biodiversity-rich Ulugan Bay in the West coast of Palawan. It is a demonstration of the severe environmental collateral damage the AEDC will likely bring about, said Dulce of Kalikasan PNE.
Last week, a politician from the opposition revealed that the Aquino government has acquired an expensive and modern “spy kit.”
These communications equipment which reportedly include wiretapping devices are similar to those used by the United States in its “counter-terrorism” intelligence operations. “We received similar information sometime in November last year that high-tech communications equipment worth $3.4 million from Rhode & Schwarz of Germany have been silently acquired in 2012 with the blessings of the DBM,” said UNA secretary general and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco.
This week, fisherfolk groups report, ships bearing US flags have been sailing to and from Pacific towns in Leyte in Eastern Visayas. At least three US military ships are frequently sighted making the rounds. A local said it is part also of the preparations for Obama’s visit.
In the face of these increasing incursions into Philippine territory by foreign troops, Kalikasan reiterated that the Supreme Court could make a difference if it executes the Tubbataha petition, and extends its judicial activism toward reviewing unfair bilateral agreements with the US such as the Visiting Forces Agreement and the impending AEDC.
Before Aquino or his defense secretary signs a new military basing agreement with the US when US Pres. Barack Obama arrives for a quick visit, the environmentalists urged the public to chant a simple message to the Supreme Court: “Tell the US government and US troops — clean up, pay up or get out of the Philippines.”