“The Aquino government is reducing the issue of USS grounding in Tubbataha as a mere financial compensation issue, disregarding the clear violations of Philippine sovereignty.”– Kalikasan-PNE
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Philippine government has finally submitted a compensation request to the US government for the destruction of parts of Tubbataha Reef by its minesweeper ship last June 13. Although environmentalist and patriotic groups have been pressing the Aquino government to do this when the USS Guardian trespassed and got caught into the no-sail zone, these groups expressed disappointment over the delay in the government’s action. Not only that, they criticized the government for asking for a paltry amount, and it’s downplaying of the damages wreaked by the US navy ship.
“A year and a half have passed before the Philippine government requested compensation from the US government. But aside from asking meagre compensation for the destruction wrought on Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site and Philippine National Treasure, they also acted little in demanding the US government’s and US Navy’s accountability over their violation of Philippine sovereignty,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan Philippine Network for the Environment.
Kalikasan-PNE is one of the petitioners who filed a Writ of Kalikasan before the Supreme Court in April last year. They are demanding financial compensation, environmental rehabilitation, and judicial prosecution of the errant USS Guardian personnel.
The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) has been quick in informing the US Embassy, the US Navy and the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the violations committed against the Tubbataha Law and the corresponding penalties. For violation of the Law (RA 10067), the TPAMB is levying a fine of USD1.4 million (P58.3 million) for coral damage and other violations. These include infringement of Section 19 (Unauthorized entry), Section 20 (Damages to the reef), Section 21 (Non-payment of conservation fees), Section 26g (Destroying, disturbing resources) and Section 30 (Obstruction of Law Enforcement Officers) of RA 10067.
But the US has also been vocal that they will only settle the issue on the Tubbataha incident through negotiation with the executive branch of the Philippine government. Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan PNE said this is “a deliberate effort to dodge criminal culpability under PH jurisdiction for their military forces involved in criminal or civil violations in the Philippines.”
Waiting for the Aquino government’s request for compensation, the US government has not yet paid the country the fine set by TPAMB, despite the US announcing that they would pay the fine.
Biased toward the US
Kalikasan PNE seethes over what it calls as the “inutile Aquino government,” saying it has not filed a legal case nor acquired jurisdiction over the US Navy officers and personnel involved in the grounding incident.
“The Aquino government is reducing the issue of USS grounding in Tubbataha as a mere financial compensation issue, disregarding the clear violations of Philippine sovereignty,” Bautista said. But even in terms of compensation, the Aquino government seems to have reduced the amount, too, following the reduction in the estimate of the damaged area as US navy personnel and “marine expert” entered the assessment team.
Tubbataha Reefs’ Protected Area Superintendent Angelique Songco said an assessment team, which included local officials, U.S. Navy personnel and a U.S. marine biologist, concluded damages would run about $1.5 million. The team had also reduced the estimated area of destruction.
The petition for Writ of Kalikasan filed by environmental and militant groups pegs the total cost of required damage payment, including the needs for rehabilitation, at $16 to $27 million.
All these actions of the Aquino government contrasted with its actions on the next ship that pulverized parts of Tubbataha.
The Aquino government has demanded higher compensation from a much smaller Chinese fishing vessel that also ran aground in Tubbataha April last year. Compared to USS Guardian, which was grounded in the reef for 73 days, the Chinese ship was removed 11 days or less than two weeks since it ran aground.
The USS Guardian measured 225-foot by 39-foot, compared to the Chinese fishing vessel’s 157-foot long by 26 -foot, (in meters, USS Guardian was 68-meters long, 11.89-meters wide; the fishing vessel is 48 meters long, 8 meters wide). The USS Guardian had a displacement of over 1,300 tons; the Chinese fishing vessel was estimated to weigh around 500 gross tonnes.
When the Philippine Coast Guard boarded the then newly aground Chinese fishing vessel, they found fishing nets but saw no fish or other marine life. The USS Guardian had barred the Philippine Coast from boarding the ship, so it was not reported what it had on board. But the US Navy described the USS GUARDIAN as one representing the most capable mine countermeasures platform ever constructed, capable of mine detection, mine neutralization and mine clearance in strategic U.S. and foreign ports and key ocean areas. To do that, it has a top of the line sonar system and mine neutralization robot.
A writer for military and defense issues in businessinsider.com also said in March last year when the USS Guardian was still grounded in Tubbataha, that “American Minesweepers are far more destructive to reefs than other ships because they’re made mostly of pine and clad in a soft, non-resonating material to keep from triggering mines. They shred apart when they founder in the surf, like ripping silk from an ear of corn. And they also leak oil and fuel.”
This means that the grounded ship would not just destroy the part of the reef it was ramming against, its shredded material will also hit other corals, and its leaking oil and fuel can also destroy other marine life. The offloading of its crew and other salvageable items in the minesweeper had also meant increased traffic of ships in the no-sail zone, as the locals in Palawan and its local government complained against the ships’ unauthorized comings and goings