SC: No to US payment for damages in Tubbataha Reef accident
MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a plea by environmental groups to require the USS Guardian to pay for damages when it ran aground and damaged the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Martin Villarama, the high court said damages should be made in a separate civil suit as provided under the writ of kalikasan.
The high court’s ruling is contained in its unanimous ruling with 13-0-2 vote dismissing the petition for writ of kalikasan filed by the following:
Bishop Pedro D. Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Bishop Deogracias S. Iñiguez, 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 Enrique A. Africa, Theresa A. Concepcion, Mary Joan A. Guan, Nestor T. Baguinon, Ph.D., and public interest lawyer Edsel F. Tupaz.
Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza is on sick leave while Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza inhibited from the case.
Petitioners wanted the high court to issue a temporary environmental protection order and to require US officials and their representatives to place a deposit to the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Trust Fund as a gesture towards full reparations for P58.37million.
They pointed out that under international and domestic laws, such as the Polluter Pay Principles, Rio and Stockholm Declarations, the United States government is legally bound to pay for environmental damages brought about by its military forces and assets in other countries.
But the high court in its ruling said “the Court declined to grant damages which have allegedly resulted from the violation of environmental laws because the rules on environmental protection and the writ of kalikasan expressly provide that the recovery of damages, including the collection of administrative fines under Republic Act 10067 (An act establishing the Tubbataha Reef) are to be made in a separate civil suit or that one deemed instituted with any criminal action.”
Petitioners also asked the high court to require the rehabilitation of the areas affected by the grounding of the USS Guardian.
“The conduct of foreign relations of the government is committed by the Constitution to the political departments of the government and the propriety of what may be done in the exercise of this political power is not subject to judiciary inquiry or decision,” the high court said.
The high court added that while the country has no jurisdiction over respondents Scott H. Swift, Commander Of The U.S. 7th Fleet; Mark A. Rice, Commanding Officer Of The USS Guardian and , Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, the US’ action can be brought before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“The US’ non membership in the Unclos does not mean that the US will disregard the rights of the Philippines as a Coastal State over its internal waters and territorial sea,” the high court said “the US is expected to bear ‘international responsibility’ under Article 31 in connection with the grounding of the USS Guardian which adversely affected the Tubbataha reefs.
At the same time, the high court refused to review the Visiting Forces Agreement and to nullify certain portions citing that the writ of kalikasan is not the proper remedy to question the constitutionality and its provisions.
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