From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 5): US says no request received over Tubbataha fine
The Philippine government is yet to send a formal request asking the United States to pay for the damage its warship brought to the Tubbataha Coral Reef sanctuary when it ran aground in Sulu Sea nearly a year ago, the US Embassy to Manila confirmed.
In a Twitter response to Manila Bulletin Online’s inquiry on the subject, the official US Embassy Twitter account claimed that the US has not received any request from the Philippine government over its P59.3-million fine after the USS Guardian ran aground and damaged 4,000 square meters (43,055 square feet) of coral reefs in Tubbataha reef, a world heritage site, on January 17, 2013.
For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it will first wait for the Supreme Court to resolve the Writ of Kalikasan petition filed by several groups against USS Guardian officers before it would claim the compensation from the US. This was the subject of a letter on September 19, 2013 sent by DFA Assistant Secretary Carlos D. Sorreta to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park superintendent Angelique Songco.
“The Department finds it prudent to wait until the petition on the Writ of Kalikasan is resolved before the claim is pursued,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was furnished to Manila Bulletin Online.
Soretta said it’s a decision meant to avoid “legal and diplomatic issues” with the US government.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the government’s decision to wait for SC resolution is “unfortunate” but “not surprising.” NUPL is among the petitioners in the Writ of Kalikasan.
In a phone interview, Olalia said this showed that the Philippine government has no political will to pursue the damage caused by the US.
He said the government no longer needs to wait for the court to resolve the petition as it is within the power of the executive branch to ask the US government over the compensation.
Olalia stressed that President Benigno Aquino himself could directly asked the executive branch of the US over the matter, considering the US Secretary of State John Kerry had visited the country last year.
He said this is contradictory to the Philippine government’s statement that they are committed to pursue the compensation.
The petition, which was filed in July 2013 before the Supreme Court, asked the US government to pay for the damages it brought to the country. The petitioners, which was lead by Puerto Princesa Bishop Arigo , also seek a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) which would, among other things, stop US military warships from entering Philippine waters.
The highest court is yet to issue a decision, considering that the respondents, including Scott Swift, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the American minesweeper, are yet to comment on the petition despite the request from the SC.
Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has slammed the US government for ignoring the petition. “The US government must respond to and account for their crimes against the people and the environment. That is simple as ABC, nothing more, nothing less. The incident merits the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and the 79 other crew of USS Guardian,” it said.
Meanwhile, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Sunday said the US has made the Philippine laws a “mockery” by not paying for the P59-million fine ($1.4 million) fine.
According to the petition, the reasonable compensation for the Tubbataha reef damage is between $16.8 million and $27 million, considering the violation on the Philippine environmental laws and regulations.
It cited a similar grounding of USS Port Royal at Oahu, Hawaii in 2009 where US Navy paid the Hawaii government a total of $15 million for restoration and settlement for damage to an Oahu reef.
While the Oahu reefs damaged were larger, the petitioners assert that it was not a heritage site, unlike Tubbataha reef which was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site housing rich marine life.