MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court has issued a “writ of kalikasan” over the Tubbataha Reef that directs the Court of Appeals to determine whether the US Navy is criminally and administratively liable for the massive coral destruction in the reef by the grounding of the USS Guardian last Jan. 17.
Unconfirmed reports last night said majority of the 15 high court justices voted in favor of issuing a writ of kalikasan that a group of activists, Catholic bishops and environmental advocates had petitioned for last week.
With the writ, the high court remands the petition to the Court of Appeals, which will hold hearings on whether the high court should issue a temporary environmental protection order for the Tubbataha Reef protected site.
The high tribunal ordered Philippine and US Navy officials who were named as respondents in the case to file their comment within 10 days before the Court of Appeals.
The high court held its last full court (en banc) session last April 16 in Baguio City and will not convene again until June 4.
The petitioners who were named in the case were President Aquino; Vice Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the US 7th Fleet; and Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, the commanding officer of the USS Guardian, as respondents.
The petitioners asked the high court to direct the government to file administrative, civil and criminal cases against those responsible for the grounding of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef.
They also asked the court to declare that the Philippine government had “primary and exclusive jurisdiction” over responsible US officials and to set aside any immunity enjoyed by US military members under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The petitioners also asked the high court to determine the fine to be imposed on the US Navy, saying the Philippine government’s estimate of $1.4 million in compensation was “too small.”
They said more than 2,000 square meters of the reef had been damaged by the grounding of the USS Guardian.
Environmental experts have said that it takes a number of years for damaged corals to recover.
The US Navy minesweeper had to be cut in pieces, with the last piece removed in late March.
The other respondents in the petition are Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and several Armed Forces officials.
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law for persons or individuals whose constitutional right to “a balanced and healthful ecology” is violated by an unlawful act or omission of a public official, employee or private individual or entity.
It was made by the high court in 2010 when it issued the rules of procedure for environmental cases as a special civil action and has been sought to deal with environmental damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.—Dona Z. Pazzibugan