US Navy must pay for breaking PH laws–Aquino

‘Apology for Tubbataha not enough’


President Benigno S. Aquino III. Malacañang Photo Bureau

DAVOS, Switzerland—“Excuse me, we sustained damage. Do we leave it at that?”  President Aquino said on Friday.

The United States Navy will be held answerable under Philippine laws for the damage caused by the grounding of a US 7th Fleet warship in Tubbataha Reefs, Mr. Aquino said.

Talking with Filipino reporters after the World Economic Forum meeting here, Mr. Aquino said he had ordered Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to investigate the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian in the Unesco-World Heritage protected area in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17.

The Philippine government’s priority, however, is to remove the ship from the reef to prevent further damage to the marine environment.

“How did they actually get into a protected area? How did their navigation systems, [supposedly among the most sophisticated in the world], fail?”  Mr. Aquino said.

Asked whether the apology issued by the US government would suffice, the President said it only showed that the United States respected the Philippines as a sovereign state and was “very careful” about its sensitivities.

“But that doesn’t exempt them from having to comply with our laws,” Mr. Aquino said.

The Avenger-class USS Guardian, a 63-meter, 1,300-ton mine countermeasure vessel belonging to the US 7th Fleet, ran aground on the south atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs  while sailing to Indonesia after making a port call at Puerto Princesa in Palawan.


US apology


US officials have apologized for the accident and the damage it has caused to the Tubbataha Reefs, which the Philippines considers a national treasure.

But for President Aquino expressions of regret, while appreciated, are nearly not enough, as the US Navy has caused such a big mess and the violation of Philippine laws cannot be ignored, even for the sake of friendship.

“Our laws are very specific,” Mr. Aquino said. “When they got the diplomatic clearance to pass through our waters, this is a recognized, internationally recognized zone, that is, like an exclusive zone. They violated it. There are penalties.”

But the process will come in stages. The top priority, Mr. Aquino said, is to remove the stuck ship and then to assess the damage.

At the same time, the President said he would like to know how the accident happened so that measures could be taken to prevent repetitions.

“But the other thing is the damage, the fines that will be levied,” Mr. Aquino said.

Why are you there?

Philippine environmentalists and lawmakers have demanded to know why the warship proceeded to enter the marine park, 128 kilometers from Puerto Princesa, despite warnings from park authorities that it was entering a restricted area.

The US Navy said a navigational map that misplaced the Tubbataha Reefs or possible errors in the Guardian’s navigational system caused the ship to stray into the protected area, famous for its magnificent marine life and coral that rival Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Strong winds and big waves have been tossing the vessel around for days, damaging 1,000 square meters of reef, according to the Philippine Navy and environmental officials.


Salvage operation

Philippine and American authorities have decided to remove the Guardian by lifting the badly damaged ship off the water and loading it onto a barge.

Two heavy lift ship-borne cranes are arriving from Singapore at the end of the month to remove the vessel and take it to a shipyard somewhere in the region for repairs.

The US Navy has finished defueling the Guardian, with a Malaysian tugboat, the Vos Apollo, removing 57,000 liters of diesel fuel from the ship on Friday.

The salvage operation is expected to start, at the earliest, Feb. 1.




Transportation Secretary Abaya, a graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, said earlier that the Philippine government would lodge a complaint for damages.

Angelique Songco, the marine park superintendent, said the damage to the reef could not be assessed until the ship was removed. But the Philippine government, she said, imposes a fine of $300 for every square meter of damaged coral.

In 2005 the environmental group Greenpeace was fined nearly $7,000 after its ship struck coral in Tubbataha.

While apologizing for the mess caused by the Guardian, the US government has said nothing about paying for the damage to the reef.

As usual, after the eruption of a controversy involving Americans, left-leaning groups are calling for a review of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

Asked about it, Mr. Aquino replied, “What does the VFA have to do with the Americans’ going to Tubbataha? There are no [joint military exercises there]. [T]his is really a question of violating certain ecological laws that we already have in the books.” With a report from Tarra Quismundo


First posted 3:46 pm | Saturday, January 26th, 2013

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Hunter421

    What about the Chinese Navy? They break PH laws almost daily but no strong talk from Malacanang and no protests at the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

    • BI_kotong

      Haven’t you heard the news for the past few years? Did you know what happened at scarborough? You’re talking as if the PH is virtually doing nothing as in nothing. If our govt did nothing eh wala sanang enkwentro na nangyari sa scarborough.

  • chikko

    Agree ako diyan ki boybakal. nawala yata ang diplomatic skills ni pnoy. nakalimutan na yata ang mga million Dollar donations ng amerika.  hay naku! di yata nag iisip si pinoy bago buksan ang bunganga. Noong kunin ng mga chinese fisherman , escorted by chinese warship, ang mga corral shell spratley, wala siyang masabi. nag mukha siyan chicken sa mga chinese at walang nagawa. sinabi na lang na: ‘pabayaan nyo na lang sila.”  nanginig yata sa mga  chinese warship. pero dito sa kano, parang ang tapang! hay naku! mahirap maintindihan!  SANA huwag ng magbigay ng US 50 , 100, 200 million dollar pag may disaster sa pinas, dahil wala na siyang mukha kung tatanggapin nya ang donations.  sana mag aral pa siya ng diplomatic skills para sa susunod niyang salita alam na niya ang sasabihin. sa ngayon, pag may disaster na naman sa pinas, baka kainin niya ang kanyang binitiwang salita.

    • BI_kotong

      Ibang klaseng utang na loob yang pinapairal sa mga kokote nyo boy.. mas lalong aasenso tayo nyan.. 

      • boybakal

        Hindi naman Utang na Loob.
        The President should be more diplomatic in his words. He should not accuse the US Navy of violating our laws.

        Ano yan US Navy tanga, with sophisticated equipment, they know where they are.
        But accident is accident. You cannot prevent it as they say fortuitous event is bound to happen but you don’t know when.

        As President he should be more prudent and discreet on his statement and not making idiotic, irrational statements.

  • boshog

    with certainty America would pay damages. Let us just make sure that the payment does not line the pockets of government officials. As I understand, the reef will repair itself naturally albeit for a long time ergo no expense to be incurred.

  • disqusted0fu

    What a showbiz response from Pnoy. Lets see it happen then.

    Pnoy is so fond of talking and lecturing. If he would just reflect on what he says, it should come to his senses that most of what he is saying could be applicable to the things that he is doing.

  • Vicente

    What was the U.S. minesweeper ship, USS Guardian, doing near Palawan? Detecting or sweeping possible mines, of  course,  Whose mines?  Chinese mines, naturally.  Who had been potentially favored by U.S. minesweeping operations?  Philippine coast guard ship or navy ship which patrol the Philippines’ Kalayaan Group of islands.  Was the U.S. minesweeping intention good for the Philippines?  The answer to that, of course, may well be a rhetorical question: Is a regular medical check-up good for our body?  

    Why, O why, do we treat the U.S. as though we aren’t allies? Don’t we need their support in asserting our claims in the South China Sea?   (by Vicente C. Falculan from Carmen, Davao del Norte)   

  • junsepara

    you just don’t understand english do you??he,he,he,typical chink, look it up in an american constitution, or else they will not dare enter in a defense treaty with other counties and vice versa with my constitution, nagmamarunong ka bobo ka naman tsk,tsk,tsk, pati article sa MDT di mo maintindihan, he,he,he,he, ka bobo!!!

  • kanoy

     “Excuse me, we sustained damage. Do we leave it at that?”  President Aquino said on Friday.

    The crime was described as “the rape of the ocean.”

    Poachers decimated an entire “reef complex”—almost twice as big as Manila—off the coast of Cotabato province when they harvested more than 21,000 pieces of black coral and killed 161 endangered turtles and other marine life, officials said Tuesday.

    One of the turtles killed was a male aged 80 to 100 years old


  • n

    Talking tough will only serve to boost his presidential ratings on surveys conducted by an outfit owned by his relatives, but it will never make a statesman out of a bumbling head of state. The USS Guardian incident admittedly is an unfortunate one, but let us call it as it is – an accident. What naval captain in his right mind would intentionally ground his ship on a reef? Not only would it mean the loss of a multi-million dollar warship, but also the captain’s naval career as finished. True, one of our protected marine sanctuaries has sustained serious damage, but still it is due to an accident with no element of malicious intent. America has been our country’s friend for years, notwithstanding the circumstances that brought them into our land. Instead of the vitriol and angry rhetoric, the least we could do is once more offer the hand of friendship to a proven friend and offer sympathy for the unfortunate incident, and cooperate with the US Navy in efforts to remove the stricken vessel with the least possible additional damage to our world-famous Tubbataha Reef. If the US government offers to compensate us for the damage, our government can accept the offer, but demanding payment even before diplomacy tries to resolve the issue smacks of us as MUKHANG PERA!

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