Gov’t to ensure US will pay for Tubbataha damageBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The government will make sure the United States makes good on its pledge to compensate the Philippines for the damage inflicted by a US Navy ship on the Tubbataha Reef marine sanctuary, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.
Salvage operations to remove the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper that got stranded on the protected area on Jan. 17, were completed on Saturday, or more than two months later.
According to Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the foreign office’s spokesperson, because the issue involved another country, even though communications would go through the Department of Foreign Affairs, the work of seeking compensation involved the coordination of different agencies “to make sure the damage that was caused is fully accounted for and that payment for the damage were undertaken by the US.”
The US government, through its embassy in Manila, said Saturday that it was committed to pay for any damage that the Guardian caused to what is considered a world treasure.
A marine ecological assessment by Philippine government agencies and the US Navy is expected to begin in the next few days to fully appraise the damage to the reef, initially estimated to cover 4,000 square meters of the marine sanctuary.
The Philippines and the United States are conducting separate investigations of the incident, a rare occurrence in which the US military suffered the complete loss of a vital naval asset at peacetime.
“We would like to emphasize that the maritime casualty investigation team led by the Philippine Coast Guard continues to conduct an independent investigation in order that this kind of accident will not happen again,” said Hernandez.
“The US has its own investigation on what happened and since the [Guardian’s] crew have already been assigned to [the US base in] Japan, then their investigation is being conducted there,” he said.
He said the two countries maintain “information sharing and cooperation” on the Guardian grounding investigation and that a contingent from the Philippines had been invited to observe the US investigation.
A Philippine Coast Guard team will be flying to Japan to meet with US investigators as Guardian crewmen had refused to consent to a face-to-face interview, which the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has criticized.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said this was “humiliating” as the Philippines, the aggrieved party, appeared to be “pleading for the cooperation of US troops.”
He said the Guardian crew should never have been allowed to leave the country before a probe could be conducted.
“The probe should have taken place here, under our own terms, under our domestic laws. The US troops should have been held for the violation of Philippine laws,” said Reyes in a statement.
“Our sovereignty has clearly been undermined. Our probe will only go as far as the US Navy allows it to go. That is truly anomalous and is an affront to our country. Why should the Philippine government submit to the conditions of the US Navy when it is the US Navy that caused the damage in the first place. It is patently untenable and speaks of the subservience of the Aquino government to US dictates,” he said.