“The US Navy not only incurred considerable damage to our world heritage site, they also clearly violated our Philippine sovereignty and laws.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — The environmentalist activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said the Aquino government has let the US government “run scot-free from their liabilities” in the destruction caused by a guided US minesweeper in the Tubbataha Reef, a Unesco World Heritage site in Sulu sea, Palawan.
The US government paid P87 million ($1.97 million) on Jan. 20, said the Department of Foreign Affairs in a statement. This was two years after the grounding of the USS Guardian on January 17, 2013, destroying some 2,345 square-meters of the coral reef. Green groups estimated it would take decades for the reef to regain its former state.
“The said financial compensation is not enough to release the US from their liabilities and absolve the US Navy for the crime that the US Navy did in Tubbataha,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
“The US Navy not only incurred considerable damage to our world heritage site, they also clearly violated our Philippine sovereignty and laws,” he said.
Bautista said that based on their study, the US must pay from $17 million up to 27 million to repair the environmental damage in the national park. “Even the US$2 million compensation is too little to finance the rehabilitation and protection of Tubbataha Reef,” Bautista said.
The government has not filed a case against the US Navy personnel involved in the grounding. On Sept. 16, 2014, the Supreme Court (SC) rejected a petition for a writ of kalikasan filed by environmental groups and Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo against US military officials. The SC said that it was not within the court’s jurisdiction, but ordered the US governement to pay damages.
“You cannot simply pay off the fact that the personnel of the USS Guardian should be held criminally liable as they clearly violated Philippine laws and regulations,” Bautista said. He added that the government should still assert jurisdiction over the erring American military men.
“In the end, these environmental crimes and sheer disrespect to our sovereignty will persist as long as the implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and other onerous and one-sided military agreements continue,” Bautista said.