The government Sunday welcomed the removal of a
Salvage crews contracted by the US Navy Saturday extracted the last remaining piece of the USS Guardian from the Tubbataha reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site in a remote area of the
"We maintain there must be accountability and we will enforce our existing laws," said Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III.
"We will adopt needed measures to prevent a repetition (of the incident)," he said.
Initial investigation showed that the ship had damaged about 4,000 square meters (43,055 square feet) of the reef, famous for its rich marine life that divers say rivals that of
Tubbataha is a protected marine park under Philippine law, and is off limits to any vessel unless permission is granted by park authorities.
Fines can reach up to $585 for every square meter that has been damaged, officials said.
While only a small portion of the marine park has been damaged, the incident has stoked nationalist sentiment and revived debate about a controversial agreement that allows a
The United States has repeatedly apologized for the incident, but has not clearly explained why a naval vessel with state-of-the-art equipment ran aground in an area that local officials said was clearly visible in any map.
Angelique Songco, head of the Tubbataha Management Office that oversees the marine park, said US and Philippine divers would remain in the area for further clean-up operations to ensure no debris was left behind.
No case against US Navy
Despite Coloma’s statement the government will press for compensation for the damage, activist groups noted that it has apparently dropped for good the idea of filing a legal case against the US Navy for destroying a portion of the 130,028-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sulu Sea,
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and Anakpawis partylist insist the Philippine government should go to court and to bring back to the country the Navy officials and the 79 crew members of USS Guardian (MCM5) minesweeper.
Right after the warship was grounded on January 17, the US Navy whisked its crew to
But President Benigno Aquino III did not order the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice to work on the extradition of the culprits.
Songco’s office had earlier acknowledged that they warned the officials and crew of the warship not to enter the UNESCO-declared heritage site because it is unlawful to pass or navigate there.
“The US Navy officials and crew of the American Navy sweeper never recognized this warning and pushed through with their military escapade, a clear indication that they reject Philippine authority and treat Tubbataha and the rest of the archipelago as an American military base outside Washington D.C. or worse, the Philippines as slave state of the USA,” said Pamalakaya and Anakpawis.
On Sunday, Songco said they will conduct a full assessment on April 2, followed by area inspection on April 3, joined by government agencies, marine experts and a Hawaii-based biologist of the US Navy.
“We’re expecting a joint assessment with the US Navy and then we will proceed to Tubbataha to determine the exact and final measure of the damage because that will be the basis of the fine they will have to pay for,” Songco said.
According to her, based on the law the fine would be P12,000 per square meter of damage and at least P12,000 for the restoration of damage.
“So we are looking at least P24,000 per square meter,” Songco said.
The estimated damage on the reef was 4,000-sqm, so at that rate of compensation, the US Navy should be paying at least P96 million.
Songco acknowledged that despite initial apprehensions, the salvage operation of the minesweeper did not cause more damage on the reef. “They have been really careful in the conduct of salvage operations; in fact, if you look at this picture so I don’t see that happening here. So any further damage beyond the 4,000 sq.m. would be very minimal.”