MANILA, Philippines – Two militant groups filed a letter of complaint Tuesday urging the Department of Justice to take legal action against US Navy officers and crew members of the USS Guardian, the 63-meter long minesweeper that ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef last January 17.
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and Anakpawis partylist asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to make Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley and Lt. Commander Mark Rice of the US Asia Pacific Military Command, as well as the 79 members of the USS Guardian crew, legally accountable for damaging the reef.
“Malinaw na ang DOJ ay may karapatang kasuhan itong mga criminal sa pagwasak at pagsira sa ating kalikasan,” said Anakpawis Vice Chairperson Fernando Hicap.
(DOJ is in the position to charge those responsible for harming our environment.)
Last week, the US government apologized for the incident and vowed to pay the damages, but Hicap said the pledge was not enough. “[Kailangang pagbayaran din nila] ang hindi nila pagkilala sa ating soberanya.”
(They should answer for impinging upon our sovereignty.)
According to their letter of complaint, officials of the Tubbataha Reef Management warned the USS Guardian not to enter the Unesco-declared heritage site. But US Navy official and crew members did not heed the warning.
“[It] is a clear indication that they reject Philippine authority and treat Tubbataha and the rest of the archipelago as an American military base,” the complaint stated.
“Secretary de Lima, the evidence is so damning enough to enforce the arrest of US Navy officials and 79 crew members of USS Guardian for extremely violating the country’s sovereignty and laws. But nothing has been done to pursue their arrest and demand accountability from them,” the complaint further stated
Meanwhile, De Lima said the complaint “is just a mere letter of appeal.”
“So, wala pang basehan ang DOJ at this point to take any legal action until makuha natin ang resulta ng imbestigasyon sa kung ano ang nangyari,” she added.
(So the DOJ has no basis yet to take legal action until we receive the result of the investigation on what really happened.)
As to whether the issue can be taken to the United Nations Council, De Lima said that the matter should be first be settled by local authorities. Mara Cepeda and Caitlin Jao