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Santiago: US quibbling over payment of fine

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Santiago: US quibbling over payment of fine

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 05:05 AM January 06, 2014

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago: Disappointed. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The United States is delaying payment of the P58.3-million fine for damaging the Tubbataha Reefs by quibbling over procedure, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Sunday.

The US government has failed to compensate the Philippines close to a year after its Navy ship, the USS Guardian, got stuck on an atoll in the Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17, 2013.

Santiago, former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said she was “disappointed” by the claim of a US official that Washington had not received a formal request for payment from Manila.

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Compliance with such a procedure was “irrelevant” since the Philippine government had decided to fine the US government some P58 million for the damage, Santiago said.

“Their contention that payment has not been fully delivered because the Philippines has yet to make a formal request is dilatory,” she said in a phone interview.

“Why quibble with these technicalities since we have brought this case before the tribunal asking for payment? That there has been no full compliance is irrelevant. This is very insignificant and doesn’t detract from the judgment,” she added.

As things stand, the US must “pay” the “piddling” fine, Santiago said. “There has been a judgment. They must pay up.”

Heritage site

Nearly a year after the Guardian ran aground in the protected reefs—a World Heritage site—Philippine environment officials confirmed the US had not paid the fine imposed by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO).

Filipino activists and environmentalists in April 2013 petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a writ of kalikasan (environment), demanding a stiffer fine than the one assessed.

A US official privy to the matter reasoned out that Manila had not formally requested settlement of damages. Otherwise, Washington was committed to expediting such a request, the official said.

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Progress

Foreign affairs officials, however, said that talks on compensation were still ongoing between the two countries and that there had been some “progress.”

The Guardian—a 68-meter, 1,389-ton minesweeper—was sailing to Indonesia after a port call at Subic in Zambales when it ran aground in the South Atoll, one of two atolls constituting the reef.

Experts said the damage covered 2,345.67 square meters of the reef, and the law prescribes a fine of $600, or P24,000, for every square meter of damaged reef, plus $600 for every square meter for rehabilitation.

Salvors retrieved the last major section of the minesweeper on March 30 last year. It was cut up into sections to avoid further damaging the reef.

Obligation

Santiago, who was elected to the International Criminal Court in 2011, said the US was duty bound to pay the fine under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), or the customary law.

She specifically cited Article 192 of Unclos, which provides that states have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.

“The US is bound by this. This provision binds not only those who are parties, it binds all states,” she said.

Even outside of Unclos, Santiago said the protection of the marine environment falls under customary law, which is just as binding on the US and other states.

Customary law

Customary international law refers to international obligations arising from established state practice, as opposed to obligations arising from formal written international treaties, according to the Cornell University Law School website.

Santiago cited Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which states: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

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