Gov’t urged to ‘act decisively’ on Tubbataha Reef crash


The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, after running aground off Tubbataha Reef, a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, 640 kilometers southwest of Manila in this January 17 photo released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command. AP/AFP WESCOM

MANILA, Philippines – Various groups composed of marine and legal experts on Thursday urged the Philippine government to “act decisively” in holding the United States (US) accountable for the damage its stranded United States (US) Navy Ship caused to the Tubbataha Reef, saying that the US would continue to commit “environmental crimes” should the government let this pass.

In a forum entitled “The Crash on Tubbataha” held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) renewed the call for the termination of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as he warned against the dangerous implications of what he described as the US’ “unlimited access” to Philippine waters.

“The real problem is the VFA. US ships are given a kind of ‘unlimited access’ to our waters that even Malacañang is clueless as to why the USS Guardian was in Tubbataha. The ability of the US Navy to [freely access] our waters is too dangerous,” Reyes said.

“To prevent similar incidents from happening, the VFA must go. Pending the termination of the VFA, no US ship should be allowed in our waters while the Tubbataha problem is yet resolved,” he added.

Earlier reports had noted that around 1,000 square meters of corals had been severely damaged because of the grounding incident and that the Philippine government had expressed its intent to fine the US Navy for the damage and illegal entry into the marine sanctuary.

But Reyes, in his talk, noted that the issue was not just about receiving just compensation for the damage but the assertion of the country’s sovereignty against the US.

“We may be getting a relatively small compensation for Tubbataha, that is assuming the US is even willing to pay up. But asserting our sovereignty against the US, on a matter related to a world heritage site, that is priceless. That is long-term,” Reyes said.

Renmar Martinez, a representative from the Marine Science Institute in UP, meanwhile, noted that based on their estimates, the initial reef damage cost amounted to P12 million but the estimates did not include the travel costs.

Martinez also underscored the importance of the Tubbataha Reef as a “symbol of the Philippines’ sovereignty,” saying that as a world heritage site, it serves a “legacy of national and global importance.”

Martinez noted that the unique aspects of the reef in terms of bio-diversity and ecologically balanced systems made it a “pivotal” site in the study of climate change.

Lawyer Romel Regalado Bagares, executive director of the Manila-based Center for International Law, for his part, said that the Philippines could study legal remedies in holding the US accountable for the incident, but that the question was whether the Philippine government was willing to challenge the US.

Bagares said the process would be long and arduous because of conflicting laws, but that the Philippine government must be firm in its stand to hold the US accountable.

He noted that the VFA provided provisions saying that the US would pay “just and reasonable compensation” based on “meritorious claims” for damages by its personnel.

Bagares also said that it was hard to believe that the US navy’s use of “faulty navigational charts” were to blame for the incident, citing US’ advancements in technology. He said that they were having suspicions that the ship had an “unannounced, unplanned tourism trip to Tubbataha.”

Roland Simbulan, former UP professor and known critique of the VFA, said that this incident was only one of many “environmental crimes” committed by the US against the Philippines, and that “it was time for the country to firmly defend its national interests.”

“There are many questions left unanswered…..But one thing is clear. Incidents like this will happen again and again in the future and the Philippine government will just be contented for whatever reason that the US government through its embassy will issue,” Simbulan said.

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  • tanga_hanga_ni_abnoy

    already acted decisively..d b nagtanong na sila, what are they doing there? hehe

  • joboni96

    cover yan for
    another imperialist psywar operation

    to break down pilipino resistance to recolonization
    just look at the military and government collaborators
    acting like the u.s. is their master
    in our own country

    may 500+ imperialist troops
    ang nakapasok na
    na baka hindi na aalis

    the recovered drone was another similar psywar operation of the imperialist
    yung sa scarborough, tonkin gulf incident style pakana din nila

    ang ultimate aim ng imperyalistang u.s.
    pilipinas as a base in their war
    versus intsik switik

    • boyfarmer

       500 lang? ang konti naman, dagdagan natin, gawin na lang 2,000 US troops

      • joboni96

        abala mga traydor
        sumipsip sa amo

        praning na

        work for your money boys

    • Joe Kano

       no, it is really all a plan by the little green men from mars who live under your bed.

      • joboni96

        abala mga traydor
        sumipsip sa amo

        praning na

        down with collaborator talk

      • Joe Kano

         down with idiocy

      • joboni96

        down to more idiocy

    • sh1seadad

      Same old Bah bah bah never changes. Down with communist talk. Welcome all free nations. communist must be deported to china and N Korea or put in prison. They must be put on trial for being traders to the nation

      • joboni96

        abala mga traydor
        sumipsip sa amo

        down with collaborator talk

    • sh1seadad

      only 500 troops they should make it 50,000

      • joboni96

        abala mga traydor
        sumipsip sa amo

  • DakuAkongUtin

    Hindi magtatagal yan, lulubog at lalong masisira ang Tubbatata Reef.  Considered it trashed for good. Thank you US Navy.  Phils owes you a lot . You are the gods of SE Asia. We bow to you  !

  • Brody619

    There should be no problem dealing with the US on this matter. Just to be fair and balance with PI complaints on environmental matters with other nations, Mr. Simbulan should also address  the recent incursion and grounding of Chinese vessel within the 200 mile limit of PI water.

    Is there something wrong with how Mr. Simbulan and others singling out the US on this matter? I would say yes. Their assumption is that the US is an easy target for just compensation.

    Again to be fair, they should also ramp up their effort on China’s indiscriminate exploration of the ocean under the expense of the natural environment in PI territory off Palawan.

    • Matt Lee

      There is a big difference here. 

      1) This is in actual territorial waters.

      2) This is a designated preserve.

      3) There is actual law that restricts transit through this area and the law attaches prison time and fines. (VFA is a get out of jail card)

      So if you need to detract from this issue, it makes light of your country’s claims. In the past year, I’m aware that the US Navy has accidentally killed Filipino fisherman in a night collision, have it’s contractor dump waste in your waters, and now run a ship aground with no solid explanation of its presence there. If naval navigation charts are faulty or old, it would seem groundings here would be more common place. If civilian navigation charts are more up-to-date and accurate, then that’s speaks volumes about the mightiest navy in the world so I find the chart explanation disingenuous  There is also a lighthouse on one of the atolls there. If you want to give a free pass at all these violations, you asking about China or any other nation rings hollow. 

      • vendetta07

         The difference is that they are not claiming PH territory.  They are not fishing in PH waters or searching for oil.  They are a necessary nuisance to be tolerated, the same way Korea, Japan, and middle eastern countries tolerate and even subsidize U.S. basing.

  • Joe Kano

    By all means, PH should defend its national interests.
    That should include eradicating the rampant pollution that afflicts virtually every corner of the country besides this remote nature preserve, and taking responsibility for its own national defense  against China and other potential aggressors.
    Unfortunately, this posse of pompous academics and unreconstructed communists has no reality-based plan for actually doing anything besides talking.

  • Concerned Citizen

    These people are pretending tp be concerned about  national interest with their over- exaggerated reaction to an accident  involving the US Navy.  The real issue here is the US$23trillion oil and gas reserves in the Philippine territories that we will lose if  these people succeed in making the US feel unwanted in this region and leave our fate to China.   If these people are really concerned about national interest, they will work on protecting this treasure that will make the Philippines one of the richest countries in the world.

  • sh1seadad

    Down with Bayan, Down with NPA, Down with communism, all traders need to leave and go to china or N Korea you are not wanted in the free country of the Philippines. Get out. you should all be captured and put on trial. 

  • Joe Kano


    One common manifestation of colonial mentality is a severely distorted
    preoccupation and paranoia fixated on presumed motives, intentions or acts of
    the former colonizer.

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