US reminded on responsibility for coral reef destruction in Sulu Sea
MANILA, Philippines — Almost a year after an American warship ran aground in the Sulu Sea, destroying a portion of the Tubbataha Reefs, a militant fisherfolk organization pressed the US government to take responsibility beyond the P58 million-fine it was ordered to pay the Philippines for the environmental damage.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) asked the Aquino administration to “follow up and pursue the US government to honor its obligations arising from the national environmental disaster” involving the grounding of the USS Guardian on Jan. 17, 2013.
The group is one of the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan (nature) pending in the Supreme Court, which seeks higher penalties for the damage on the Tubbataha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as criminal prosecution of the ship’s officers and crew.
Pamalakaya, in a statement, lamented that the United States government continued to snub the high tribunal’s request for Washington to answer the petition, which named as respondents Scott Swift, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the American minesweeper.
“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,” said Pamalakaya vice chair Salvador France.
France also said the coral reef destruction called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington.
The USS Guardian ran aground an atoll in the Tubbataha on Jan. 17, destroying more than 2,300 square meters of coral and prompting salvors to dismantle the vessel piece by piece in order not to further damage the reef.
The US government was fined P58 million for the damage.
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park lies at the center of the Sulu Sea and protects almost 100,000 hectares of high quality marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea.
Home to whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse, the park supports more than 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish, for which it has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization or Unesco.
The reserve also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region, according to UNESCO.
Pamalakaya also followed up on its request to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to file criminal and other charges against officials and 79 other crew members of the warship.
The militant group said it wondered why until now there was no progress on its request letter to the justice chief filed last February.