Tubbataha Reef damage ‘worse’

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Latest News Philippines: Tubbataha Reef damage ‘worse’ – Journal.com.ph:

THE Philippine government sees no problem in extending help to the US Navy in extricating the minesweeper USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef even as the damage there appears to have worsened.

Reports claimed that water is already seeping into the minesweeper which reportedly has damaged initially at least 10 meters of coral reef.

The Palawan government said it will ask the US Navy to pay for the damages as it will take about 20 to 100 years to fix the damaged reef, a marine sanctuary southeast of the province. Reports earlier said that an inaccurate navigation chart data has led to the grounding of the minesweeper.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte however  declined to comment on the U.S. Navy’s liability in the incident for now, pointing out the  Palace will wait for the investigation into the accident to be completed.

“Walang problema kung kakailanganin ang ating tulong,” Valte said.

The Malacañang official is also waiting for updates from the Department of Foreign Affairs on efforts to get the ship out of the reef with minimal damage.

The USS Guardian struck Tubbataha Reef last Thursday, and the US Navy cited the possibility of faulty digital navigation chart data that “misplaced the location” of the reef.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero is planning to look into the accident involving a United States Navy minesweeper at Tubbataha Reef to uncover “posible violations” of Philippine and international laws.

Calling the incident a “very serious one,” Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources said that his panel may launch a probe to determine the culpability of concerned US Naval officials manning the ship.

Escudero said that the US government should “be held liable” for all damages after the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site. On Thursday, the USS Guardian, a minesweeper, grazed parts of the Tubbataha Reef and eventually got stuck some 80 miles off Palawan.  Some reports indicate that at least 10 linear meters of the reef may have been damaged.

“The reef’s protection status has been severely violated, neglected. We are also looking at what other violations were incurred. We should demand not only for indemnity for damages but also for the restoration costs. Reefs are grown over centuries, the extent of the damage and what it will leave cannot be quantified in any amount,” Escudero said.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Palawan. It is located 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, acknowledged as the global center of marine biodiversity.

Sen.Loren Legarda, on the other hand, said that the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US government is “not a free pass” for American forces to enter the country whenever they wish even to the extent of destroying the country’s protected sites.

Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, pointed this out over the weekend as she deplored the apparent “troubling pattern of environmental assault” that has resulted from the visits by US naval ships in the country.

In October 2012, the US navy contractor, Glenn Marine Defense Asia Philippines, allegedly dumped off Zambales hundreds of thousands of liters of sewage waste collected from visiting US military ships, in contravention of Philippine and international laws and regulations.  Legarda conducted an investigation into the matter and is expected to release the report.

A Mindanao House leader yesterday strongly urged Congress to revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and institute measures on environment protection and conservation.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles stressed the review is not for the purpose of scrapping the VFA as proposed by some groups, but only to ensure reciprocity and mutual respect between the Philippine and the United States not only in its defense arrangements but also in protecting the environment.

“There is really a need to fine tune whatever defective provisions the VFA has relative to the incident especially on environmental issues,” Nograles said.

Nograles explained the inquiry is intended to correct whatever provisions the VFA contains that contravenes the country’s sovereignty and environmental laws.

“Why is the American ship at the Tubbataha reefs?,” the lawmaker asked.

However, Nograles said that reparation and possible damage claims that may be sought by the Philippines from the US as a result of the incident should be best left to the sound discretion and judgment of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

With Bernadette E. Tamayo, Ryan Ponce Pacpaco


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