MANILA, Philippines—A partylist lawmaker wants a congressional inquiry into the US Navy ship which has been stuck on a coral reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park, a World Heritage Site in the Sulu.
“The incident in Tubbataha is simply unforgivable,” said Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino, referring to the USS Guardian, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, which on Thursday hit the reef, some 80 nautical miles east-southeast of Palawan.
He said he would file a resolution seeking a congressional inquiry into the incident. “We will not let this pass unnoticed. It is time for us to vehemently oppose the US military’s damaging activities.”
“The continued presence of US troops in the Philippines has attacked our sovereignty in all terrains – land, air, and now our territorial waters,” Palatino said, citing reports that the US ship apparently got stuck in the coral reefs due to “misnavigation” after a routine port call in Subic Bay, a former American naval base in Zambales.
He raised the issue of a US drone found by fishermen off the coast of Masbate and “now, US ships come barging on our conservation parks.”
The legislator cited reports from the Tubbataha management office, saying that the US ship may have damaged a large portion of the coral reef.
He said that such damage would be in violation of Philippine laws like Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009 and the US Navy may be fined P12,000 per square meter of damaged corals.
“While we are hoping that there would be no oil or toxic waste spill this time around, the youth condemns the recklessness of the US military that has resulted to this incident,” Palatino said, pointing out that the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US were causing damages to the country’s natural resources.
“It is appalling, really appalling. These incidents are clearly lambasting our sovereignty. Yet, we never heard any apology from the US government nor is the Aquino administration condemning any of these incidents,” he said.
In 2005, the environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 after its flagship struck a reef in the same area.
The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said in a statement that according to an initial ocular inspection, the 68-meter (74-yard) long, 1,300-ton Guardian damaged at least 10 meters (yards) of the reef.
Songco said that park rangers were not allowed to board the ship for inspection and were told to contact the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Their radio calls to the ship were ignored, she said.
The Tubbataha Reef is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Coral Triangle, the world’s cradle of marine life. It is off-limits to fishing and the collection of corals, wildlife and any marine life is prohibited. In 1992, UNESCO designated the reef as a World Heritage Site.
US Navy ships have stepped up visits to Philippine ports for refueling, rest and recreation, and joint military exercises as a result of a redeployment of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The Philippines, a US defense treaty ally, has been entangled in a territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).