US must pay more, say 2 Senate candidates

$1.4M fine for reef damage ‘loose change’

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The US Navy is not yet off the hook in the Tubbataha Reef, as Sen. Loren Legarda will not allow it to sail away even after it pays $1.4 million for the damage the grounding of the USS Guardian has caused to the protected marine park in the Sulu Sea.

In a statement, Legarda, a reelectionist candidate on President Aquino’s senatorial ticket in next month’s midterm elections, said the Department of Justice (DOJ) must fully assess how much penalty the US Navy should pay for the damage to the reef.

A principal author of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, former Sen. Jamby Madrigal, said the government should have imposed higher penalties on the US Navy. Madrigal is trying to regain her Senate seat by running also as a candidate on the administration’s senatorial team.

“The $1.4 million is loose change compared to the long-term damage to the reef caused by the USS Guardian. While there is a set formula for computing [the] damage under the law, I believe the Philippine government should impose more by way of exemplary damages,” she said.

But Malacañang is satisfied with the $1.4-million fine announced by the marine park authorities.

President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, pointed out that the assessment was in accordance with the Tubbataha law.

Valte said a diplomatic protest was unnecessary, as the US government had cooperated and helped in the Philippine investigation and promised to pay compensation for the damage and assist in the reef’s rehabilitation.

The US Navy has relieved the ship’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, as well as the executive officer and navigator, the assistant navigator and the officer of the deck pending a separate US investigation of the grounding.

Not so fast

Legarda’s statement came after the Tubbataha Management Office announced that it would fine the US Navy $1.4 million, or P60 million, an amount based solely on the schedule of penalties set by Republic Act No. 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, which pegged the fine at about $600, or P24,000, for every square meter of damaged reef.

But Legarda, head of the Senate environmental committee, said determining the US Navy’s accountability was not be limited to assessing the damage according to the Tubbataha law.

DOJ probe

“The DOJ is tasked under the law to conduct a preliminary investigation and prosecute violations of the law,” Legarda said.

“We cannot just simply identify a penalty based on the estimated damage on the reef. There has to be a determination of the range of violations, and the damages and only then can penalties be assessed. We have other laws that may have been violated as well; and clearly, RA 10067 does not preclude the filing of cases on the basis of other laws that may have been violated. All these will have to be considered by the appropriate bodies.”

Legarda said the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) had been tasked with “exercising quasi-judicial functions for adjudicating cases of violations of the act and impose penalties.”

“How was the $1.4 million assessed and who made the assessment? What violations have been determined to merit [that] penalty? Is the penalty enough given the range of violations?” she asked.

Madrigal said the Tubbataha law was enacted to protect the Unesco World Heritage site, famous the world over for its magnificent corals and marine life and, according to international divers, rivals Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“It would take years to restore a damaged reef and displaced marine animals. We should prevent this from happening again. Offenders must be taught hard lessons,” she said.

Experts placed the damage caused by the USS Guardian to the reef at 2,345.67 square meters, much lower than the initial estimate of 4,000 sqm, which would have pushed the fine to $5 million, or P200 million.

The law prescribes a fine of $600, or P24,000, for every square meter of damaged reef plus another $600 for every square meter for rehabilitation.

Not one cent more

The fine was determined after a team of divers and researchers from the Tubbataha Management Office and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines inspected the reef and determined the extent of the damage caused by the grounding of the 69-m, 1,600-ton minesweeper.

The marine park office said it would not ask for more than $1.4 million.

“[The fine of] $1.4 million is but a slap on the wrist, as the salvage operation has been estimated to cost close to $45 million,” Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco said in a statement.

“However, we respect the rule of law and this is the fine stipulated. The Tubbataha Management Office will not ask for anything more,” Songco said.

Songco earlier told the news agency Agence France-Presse that she was “not worried about criticism (for the small amount).”

“We are not trying to put one over them and we hope they will not do the same with us,” she said. “We don’t want to be dishonest. It is just a simple process—measure it correctly and then they pay. That is all. It is very straightforward.”

Salvage job

The USS Guardian ran aground on the reef on Jan. 17 while sailing to Indonesia.

To save the reef from further damage, the US Navy hired a Singapore-based salvor company to cut up the ship and remove it piece by piece.

After 10 weeks, the salvage operation was completed on March 31.—With reports from DJ Yap and TJ Burgonio

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  • crisostomo_ibarra_the3rd

    Naman naman. Gusto pa yata ng dalawang senadora na i forge ng TMO ang kanilang report na about 2000 square meters lang ang damage. Gusto yatang ipalagay na total wreck ang nangyaring accident. Buti na lang it hindi sa insurance company dumaan ang accident, kundi baka habulin sila ng falsification ng insurance. Imbes na magtatalak kayong mga senadora, bakit hindi nyo amyendahan ang batas na ginawa ninyo to put in a higher amount per square meter of damage.

  • dingdaging03

    Kapag walang nakialam, may mga nagagalit,kapag may nakialam naman sasabihin naman swapang…Walang kakuntentuhan kaya hindi tayo umuunlad ee.Akala mo naman may magagwa sila.magpasalamat tayo at gnagawa ng mga senador ang trabaho nila.

  • DGuardian

    Kung ganito kababa ang compensation sa napakalawak na pagkasira ng coral reefs at iba pang mga yamang dagat sa Tubbataha Reefs na ayon na rin sa US team na nag-assess ng damage ay 4,000 square meters ang laki ng nasirang area, subali’t ipinipilit naman ng Tubbataha management ay 2,345.67 square meters lang ay tiyak na marami pang mga bansa na may malicious intent ang gagaya sa ginawa ng commander at mga tauhan ng USS Guardian na deliberate na tinugpa ang reefs at halos ay dumaong na sa isa sa dalawang atoll doon. Okey lang sa kanilang mang-giba pa uli dahil napakamura lamang ang halaga ng mga coral reefs at yamang dagat ng Tubbataha.

    At mismong Pilipinas pa ang nagpipilit na ibaba ang size ng area na sinira ng mga Amerikano. Isang bahay na medyo malaki at maayos lang ng kaunti sa karaniwan ang mabibili ng 1.4 million dollars sa California. Ganoon na lamang ba ang halaga ng ating national heritage na walang anumang galang at pagpapahalaga na winasak ng mga tauhan ng Guardian? Dapat ay imbestigahan sila. Kung hindi mga lasing o naka-droga ay maaaring nagkakatuwaan at nagpupustahan ang mga iyon kaya nagawang isadlahk ang minesweeper nila sa Tubbataha Reefs.

  • Vic_Usi

    We can not change the rules in the middle of a ballgame.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000923389289 David Bobir

      exactly

  • Cavitekid

    Well I see a Chinese vessel has now run into the reef, lets see how your ancestors are treated? i am sure they will be forgiven for their trespassing and not fined, since they are family and not Americans.

  • bryan gage

    Why not start fining people for throwing garbage on the ground. make even more money.

  • kanoy

    OPEN THAT BIG MOUTH ABOUT CHINA LEGARDA LETS HEAR YOU TELL CHINA WHAT TIME OF DAY IT IS WHILE THEY TAKE YOUR ISLANDS AND WATERS AND DAMAGE THE SAME REEF AS THE USA WHY ARE NOT YOUR LIPS FLAPPING? WHY ARE YOU SO QUIET? WHAT? WE CAN NOT HEAR YOU,,,SPEAK UP,,,,HOW MUCH DOES CHINA OWE

    • BIGButo

      She is friend of China and hates Americans.

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