MANILA, Philippines—Left leaning fisherfolk group called on the US government to comply with the Philippine Supreme Court’s order to comment on a petition calling for a filing of criminal, administrative and civil cases against those responsible for the grounding of the USS Guardian last January 17 in Tubbataha Reef.
“The US government through its embassy in Manila should respond to the Supreme Court and refrain from invoking several concerns that would make it very difficult for concerned groups which filed the petition,” Salvador France, vice chair of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said in a statement Monday.
“The US government must respond to and account for their crimes against the people and the environment. That is simple as ABC, nothing more, nothing less. The incident merits the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and the 79 other crew of USS Guardian and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington,” the Pamalakaya official said.
The high court last month ordered respondents to the case to answer the petition.
Respondents in the petition include Scott H. Swift, commander of the US 7th fleet; Mark A. Rice, commanding officer of the USS Guardian; Foreign 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.
Aside from filing a case against those responsible for the grounding of the ship, petitioners also urged the high court to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian. They also sought for a determination of fine 12 times more than the initial estimate of the Philippine government of P58 million.
Another co-petitioner, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said they are hoping that the high court will issue a temporary environment protection order (TEPO).
“It is our hope that the petition will eventually be given due course and resolved in favor of the Filipino people. We continue to look forward to a TEPO in light of continuing port calls and exercises by US ships and troops under the VFA,” Bayan through its Secretary General Renato Reyes said.
“These activities pose a continuing threat to the environment and constitute an assault to our sovereignty,” he added.
The petition was filed several months since the grounding of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef, a protected area known as a United Nations Heritage Site.
Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners peg just and reasonable compensation for the damage to Tubbataha between $16.8 and $27 million, a far cry from the $1.4 Philippine government estimate. 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.