From the BAYAN Website (Apr 8): Fine not enough: Other liabilities, VFA should also be looked into
The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that Malacanang is wrong in settling for $1.4 million in fines for the damage wrought by a US minesweeper to the Tubbataha reef. Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. said that the Aquino government should look into other possible violations of the law as well as problems in the application of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“The announcement that Malacanang is fine with the settlement is premature and goes against national interest. In the first place, there is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the grounding. We still do not know the real reason why the US ship was there in Tubbataha in the first place. We still do not know why the US ship ignored warnings by local Tubbataha park rangers. We still do not know why the US crew threatened to fire on approaching local officials,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“Are there no aggravating circumstances that government should look into? To say that the fine is acceptable is to gloss over other violations committed by the US forces,” Reyes said.
Bayan also assailed the Philippine government for not asserting jurisdiction over the erring US troops from the onset and allowing everyone to leave the country without being properly investigated.
“The problem with the VFA is that the US troops think they are above Philippine laws and the Philippine government seems to agree with them. Why is it that no US official was investigated while they were still here in the country? Why is it that all of them were allowed to leave without being made accountable? If the government will say that they are covered by the VFA, then again that is a problem. The VFA is being used to shield US troops from accountability under our laws,” Reyes said.
“Surely that raises questions on the VFA and the practice of allowing US warships to come in and out of the country under the guise of port calls,” he added.
Bayan said that if the Aquino government settles immediately and does not pursue the investigation into the cause of the grounding, it risks being sued by different environmental groups.
“If it prematurely settles, we will sue the Philippine government for failing to protect national interests while also pushing for the accountability of the US troops. It seems it is not enough that we are being humiliated by the non-cooperation of the US troops in the Philippine investigation. Now we our sovereignty and laws are being cheapened by the statements of the Aquino regime,” Reyes said.