MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said he was considering holding a Senate inquiry into the USS Guardian’s running aground and damaging the Tubbataha Reef.
“Did it have authorized access in the first place? Were we informed of its presence in our territory? Why can’t we have official word from concerned authorities about the official status of the ship in our waters?” Escudero said in a statement.
Calling the incident a “very serious one,” Escudero said his committee “may launch a probe to uncover possible violations of Philippine and international laws.”
“We should demand not only indemnity for damage but also restoration costs. Reefs are grown over centuries, the extent of the damage and what it will leave cannot be quantified in any amount,” he added.
Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, expressed concern over what she called a “troubling pattern of environmental assault that has resulted from the visits by United States naval ships in the country.”
Legarda cited the alleged failure by US authorities to coordinate the movement and route of the USS Guardian while in Philippine waters.
“Our Visiting Forces Agreement and other treaties with the United States government is not a free pass so US ships and military personnel can do as they wish in our country, including the destruction of the environment and protected sites in our country,” Legarda said.
Legarda wants an explanation from the Presidential Commission on the VFA and the Philippine Coast Guard on how the USS Guardian was allowed to venture into the Tubbataha Reef.
“The VFAComm is tasked to monitor, in coordination with appropriate government agencies and NGOs, the activities of foreign military and civilian personnel,” Legarda said.
“What kind of coordination was carried out when officials on board the USS Guardian refused to respond to the radio calls made by Philippine authorities who were investigating their presence in our protected area?” Legarda added.
Legarda recalled that a US navy contractor, Glenn Marine Defense Asia Philippines, was found in October last year to have dumped waste water from visiting US ships into Philippine waters “in contravention of Philippine and international laws and regulations.”
“An accounting needs to be done, not just of this recent incident, but of the totality of the activities done under the ambit of the VFA over the past decade,” Legarda added.
According to Escudero, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez could not say if the warship’s entry was authorized or not.
Located 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City, the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area in Palawan and is at the heart of the so-called Coral Triangle, “acknowledged as the global center of marine biodiversity.”
“The Coral Triangle is home to at least 40 percent of the world’s fish and 75 percent of corals. Being in the center of the Coral Triangle, Tubbataha Reef plays a critical role in marine biodiversity preservation,” Escudero said.