Written by Jonathan L. Mayuga
TWO weeks before the anniversary of the grounding of an American ship on precious coral reefs, a group said the government should press the United States for its obligations.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday asked President Aquino to remind the United States government of its promise to pay for the damage caused by the US Navy on the world-renowned Tubbataha Reef on January 17 last year.
The Philippines is expected to impose a $2.4-million fine against the US government for the damage to a World Heritage site by the grounding of mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian, according to Tubbataha Management Office Head Angelique M. Songco.
“The law says the fine is P12,000 per square meter of damage and at least P12,000 for the restoration of damage; so we are looking at at least P24,000 per sq m,” Songco told reporters a day after the US Navy-led salvage team lifted the final section of the grounded-off Tubbataha Reef in March last year.
According to Pamalakaya, the US government failed to live up to the promise of compensation.
Pamalakaya is one of the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court (SC) last year.
The group lamented that the US government continues to snub the SC’s “request” for Washington to answer the petition that named Scott Swift, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the now-decommissioned minesweeper, as respondents.
“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 other 79 crew of USS Guardian and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington,” Salvador France, vice chairman of Pamalakaya, was quoted in a news statement as saying.
About 4,000 sq m of corals in Tubbataha Reef were damaged by the USS Guardian, for which the US Navy was slapped with a fine of P58 million.
But Pamalakaya said the damage caused by the grounding of USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage Park, is bigger, far more reaching and strategically fatal to the livelihood of Filipino fishermen.
“It will take one year for a millimeter of mostly hard corals in Tubbataha’s South Section to go back to its sound condition and it will take 250 years for a meter of coral to mature,” the group said.
Tubbataha Reef is a home to 360 species of corals, or about half of all coral species in the world, and it is also the breeding ground of 1,500 fish species in the country out of the 2,400 total fish species found across the archipelago.
The Tubbataha Reef Park also plays an important role in maintaining the average annual production of 800,000 metric tons of fish in the West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea, two of the country’s major fishing grounds, which are connected with Tubbataha.
The productive network of corals of Tubbataha had helped fish generation and production in nearby fishing areas that extend to major fishing grounds, such as Panay and Guimaras islands, Negros island, Cebu and Bohol islands, and the rest of Visayan Sea.
The group also insisted that the Department of Justice pursue charges against against Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice and Lt. Daniel Tyler, the officials of the USS Guardian, along with two other Navy officials and the 79 crew members of the American minesweeper.
The group said the officials, including the crew members of the USS Guardian, are liable for violating Republic Act 10067 that declared Tubbataha a protected area. Under the said law, violators may be punished with up to six years imprisonment and may be slapped with fines of up to P300,000 each.
In Photo: This photo dated March 30, 2013, provided by the United States Navy, shows the USN-contracted crane vessel MV Jascon 25 removing the stern section from the mine countermeasure ship Ex- Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef on January 17, 2013, and places it onto the barge Seabridge. (US Navy)