Militant groups that filed cases before the Supreme Court (SC) to demand just compensation from the US government and the prosecution of US Navy officers after the minesweeper USS Guardian rammed the Tubattaha Reef that destroyed the natural formation, denounced yesterday the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for claiming that their suit is causing the delay in the US settlement over the incident.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) cried foul over the statement by DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez that negotiations for compensation between the US and the Philippine governments have been put on hold pending a final decision by the Supreme Court on the petition filed by Pamalakaya, and other groups and personalities affiliated and allied with umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
“The Aquino government and officials of the foreign affairs department failed to assert justice and national sovereignty because they are all puppets and de facto officials of Washington DC in Malacanang and in the executive department. This is the reason the US has yet and will never honor its crimes against the people and the environment and will not fulfill its obligations to correct their horrendous offense to 97.31 million Filipinos,” said Salvador France and Peter Gonzales, vice chairpersons of Pamalakaya said.
The SC for its part declined to comment on the DFA position. “Its a pending matter; The SC will not comment outside of a promulgated decision.” the tribunal’s spokesman Theodore Te told the Tribune.
Pamalakaya says the Philippine government was merely trying to hide its own inabilities in blaming the groups for the delay in the compensation.
“Why blame petitioners who had asked the Supreme Court last year to issue a Writ of Kalikasan against the US and Manila governments over the infamous grounding of USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef National Park? This is a national foul play and a grand mockery of truth, justice and accountability.” the group said.
In a 90-page petition filed last April 17, 2013, the groups asked the SC to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian. Apart from issuance of the writ and TEPO, they also sought a determination of the fine to be imposed on the US Navy and the prosecution of the officers of the Guardian.
Petitioners are also asking the SC to order a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships in the absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The petitioners were also seeking seeking higher penalties for and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last year.
Admiral Cecil Haney, commanding officer of the US Pacific Fleet in a 160 page document said lack of leadership and faulty navigational equipment led to the grounding of the former USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef last January, which could have been prevented if the officers and members of the American minesweeper adhere to prudent, safe and sound navigation principles.
The DFA spokesman claims talks were suspended after environmentalists and militant groups filed a complaint against the US before the high court when minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground the reef in January last year, damaging over 4,000 square meters of the coral outcrop. Pamalakaya is one of the petitioners that filed at SC last year.
The DFA spokesman said there were commitments on the part of the US to make compensation but further discussion on this were held off because of the case filed with the Supreme Court. He said there has been progress in the discussion between the Philippines and US on the issue of compensation for the damage caused by the USS Guardian on Tubattaha Reef. However, certain parties filed a case before the SC relating to the issue. As there is a pending SC case, we would like to refrain from making further comments.
“This is very ridiculous. Imagine, instead of recognizing our efforts to make the US pay for their crimes, the DFA is blaming us for asserting the people’s rights to truth, justice and accountability and for asserting national sovereignty which the Philippine government failed to defend and uphold. This is Aquino’s super puppetry to US in broad daylight,” the Pamalakaya officials said.
Pamalakaya last week pressed the Aquino administration to follow up and pursue the US government to honor its obligations arising from the national environmental disaster involving the USS Guardian that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17 last year. The group, which is one of the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court last year lamented that the United States government continues to snub the high tribunal’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 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 and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington,” the group said in their previous petition filed at the Department of Justice last year.
The high tribunal last year acted on the petition filed by a multisectoral group led by Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan; Frances Quimpo, Clemente Bautista Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne; Maria Carolina Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan); Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; Roland Simbulan of Junk VFA Movement; Teresita Perez; Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino; Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya; Giovanni Tapang, Agham; Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno; Joan May Salvador, Gabriela; Jose Enrique Africa; Theresa Concepcion; Mary Joan Guan; Nestor Baguinon, and public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz.
The US military official said the watch team’s observations of visual cues in the hours leading up to the grounding, combined with electronic cues and alarms, should have triggered immediate steps to resolve warnings and reconcile discrepancies.
Haney said the Jan.17 incident was a “tragic mishap” which is wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution, and unfortunate circumstances. The US report says the investigation uncovers no single point of failure; instead, there were numerous links in the error chain leading up to the grounding—had any one of which been appropriately addressed, the grounding would have been prevented.
The US report, however, recommended “further administrative action against the commanding general of the ex-Guardian, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, the executive officer and navigator Lt. Daniel Tyler, the assistant navigator and the officer of the deck at the time of the grounding.
“The US report on Tubbataha environmental disaster exonerated Washington D.C and reduced the highly questionable incident to a drama of unfortunate event and plain and simple human error,” Pamalakaya noted.
The Philippine government previously reported that USS Guardian damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the marine protected area and had asked the US government to pay the Manila government a fine of P 58 million for the damage.
Meanwhile, Pamalakaya followed up their request to Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Leila de Lima to file criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew members of USS Guardian.
The militant group said it was wondering why until now there is no progress on their request letter to the justice chief filed last February urging de Lima to investigate and file appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew members of the US minesweeper ship.
The group said it appeared to them that Secretary de Lima has abandoned her job to file criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew of USS Guardian.
“It appears to us that Secretary de Lima is not keen to charge the rapists of the UNESCO declared heritage park. In the first place, she did not do anything to stop the US prime time rapists ofTubbataha from leaving the country,” said Pamalakaya.