US payment for Tubbataha damage still awaited
By Gerg Cahiles
Exactly a year after the wood-hulled minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground at the south atoll of the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, there is still no clear answer as to when the United States government will pay for the damage to parts of the coral reef.
Based on the computation of the Tubbataha Management Office, the US government must pay P58 million, or more than a million US dollars.
The US Embassy in Manila maintains that the Philippine government has yet to formally ask the United States for its claims.
Kurt Hoyer, the Press Attache of the US Embassy, said: “But, to date, we’ve not yet received a request for compensation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and, we weren’t told when they will be submitting the official claim on behalf of the Philippines. When we do receive one, we will act on it expeditiously.”
Presidential Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma pointed out that the petition for a Writ of Kalikasan filed by cause-oriented groups and some Catholic bishops is apparently hindering the process: “After the US government signified its willingness to pay compensation for damage to Tubbataha Reef as required by law, a Writ of Kalikasan was issued requiring submissions to the Supreme Court, thereby resulting in the deferment of the resolution of the compensation issue.”
On April 17, 2013, petitioners went to the High Court to ask for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order for Tubbataha Reef, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The group PAMALAKAYA also sought the imposition of stiffer fines against the US Navy and the prosecution of the USS Guardian crew in the Philippines, and returned to the Supreme Court on Thursday to file a new motion reiterating its earlier plea.
Leaders of PAMALAKAYA say the Philippine government seems not very keen on pursuing its claims and pushing for the prosecution of US Navy officials who violated the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.
The Tubbataha Management Office says the USS Guardian and its crew violated several provisions of the law, which include unauthorized entry, non-payment of conservation fee, destroying resources and damaging the reef.
PAMALAKAYA says there is double standard in the law’s implementation, saying American military personnel aboard the USS Guardian were allowed to leave the country after the incident, while local fishermen who intentionally or accidentally enter the Tubbataha Reefs immediately face charges before the courts.
On June 2013, the US Navy released the official result of its investigation into the incident.
The US Pacific Fleet said human error, lack of leadership and the use of inaccurate digital nautical charts were the cause of the tragic mishap.
US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Cecil Haney says the USS Guardian’s leadership failed to adhere to prudent, safe and sound navigation principles.
The US Embassy in Manila says several officers of the vessel, including Lt. Commander Marc Rice, who was in command during the incident, were relieved of their posts.
The 23-year-old vessel was also decommissioned from service after it was cut into pieces during the salvage operations.
The last piece of the USS Guardian was removed from the Tubbataha Reef on March 30, 2013.
The grounding incident damaged more than 2,300 square meters of the reef.
The result of the investigation by the Philippine Coast Guard was not made public.
Whatever the reason behind the non-disclosure of the Coast Guard’s investigation results, for the Writ of Kalikasan petitioners, it is the government that should take the lead in upholding national sovereignty.
The petitioners say, without action from the Philippine government, the Tubbataha Reef incident last year can be considered a grand mockery of truth, justice and accountability.