SC asked to impose higher fines for Tubbataha reef

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03:19 PM April 17th, 2013

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By: Tetch Torres-Tupas, April 17th, 2013 03:19 PM

In a photo released by the U.S. Navy, the mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian sits aground in this Jan. 22, 2013 file photo on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea in the Philippines. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Environmentalists and other civil society groups on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to impose a fine 12 times higher than the P58 million the Philippines asked the United States to pay in compensation for the damage caused by  a US warship to the Tubbataha reef.

At the same time, they are seeking prosecution of the officers of the USS Guardian minesweeper which ran aground on Tubbataha on January 17 and damaged at least 2,345 square meters of the protected reef.

The petitioners, who include Catholic bishops and leftwing groups, would like the high tribunal to issue  a temporary environmental protection order for Tubbataha reef.

In the 90-page petition, they are seeking to stop the joint Philippine-US war games and port calls by US ships until clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement are in  place.

The petition was filed exactly three months since the grounding of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations Heritage Site.

Petitoners include Bishop Pedro D. Arigo of Puerto Princesa,Palawan, Bishop Deogracias S.Iniguez, Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan, Frances Q. Quimpo, Clemente G. Bautista, Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne, Maria Carolina P. Araullo and Renato M. Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares of Bayan Muna Party-List, Roland G. Simbulan, Ph.D., Junk Vfa Movement, , Teresita R. Perez, Ph.D., Rep. Raymond V. Palatino, Kabataan Party-List, Peter SJ. Gonzales of Pamalakaya, Giovanni A. Tapang, Ph.D., Agham, Elmer C. Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Joan May E. Salvador, Gabriela, diver Jose Erique A. Africa, Theresa A. Concepcion, Mary Joan A. Guan, Nestor T. Baguinon, Ph.D., and public interest lawyer Edsel F. Tupaz.

Named respondents in the petition are Scott H. Swift, Commander Of The U.S. 7th Fleet; Mark A. Rice, Commanding Officer Of The USS Guardian; President Benigno S. Aquino III for being the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces Of The PhilippinesForeign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus P. Paje, Vice Admiral Jose Luis M. Alano, Philippine Navy Flag Officer In Command, Armed Forces Of The Philippines,Admiral Rodolfo D. Isorena, Commandant, Philippine Coast Guard,Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, Philippine Coast Guard Palawan, Major Gen. Virgilio O. Domingo, Commandant Of Armed Forces Of The Philippines Command, Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, Us Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, And Balikatan 2013 Exercise Co-Director.

The petitioners argued that the US Navy could not invoke immunity under the VFA. Citing a Supreme Court ruling, they said “courts of the Philippines have jurisdiction over crimes committed aboard merchant vessels anchored in our jurisdiction waters.”

Among the violations committed by the US Navy, according to the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB),  include unauthorized entry, non-payment of conservation fees, obstruction of law enforcement officer, damages to the reef, destroying, disturbing resources.

The petitioners are demanding a fine of $16.8 up to $27 million.

Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners believe that the amount they are asking is reasonable. Four years ago under similar circumstances, the US Navy paid the state of Hawaii a total of $15 million for restoration and settlement, for damage to an Oahu reef; which while larger than Tubbataha, has not been identified as a World Heritage Site.

Petitioners cited that Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than that of the Hawaii reef.

They said not only the grounding but the salvaging and post salvage operations of the Guardian caused environmental damage even to nearby provinces such as Palawan, Antique, Aklan, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga Del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. With Agence France-Presse

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