US agrees to pay P87M for damage to Tubbataha
Almost two years after the incident, the United States finally agreed to pay P87 million for the damage caused by its Navy ship on the Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan province, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Friday.
But US Ambassador Philip Goldberg also on Friday countered that the US and the Philippines were yet to conclude their talks on compensation regarding the Jan. 17, 2013 grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian on the south atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs.
“We’ve got an offer and we’re very near a conclusion to it,” Goldberg said in an interview with print and online reporters.
But the US official did not mention any compensation figure.
Del Rosario, however, told the Senate finance subcommittee on Friday that “the US has agreed to pay the compensation,” and that “the documentation (were) being prepared” at this time.
This was undertaken through an interagency mechanism, Del Rosario added.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje Jr. said the P87 million was the amount the Department of Environment and Natural Resources came up with “based on the computation of our teams (on) the extent of damage. The damage was assessed and computed by the Philippine government so we can easily say (the amount) is acceptable.”
The amount “is significantly higher than the $1.5 million (around P60 million) that the Tubbataha Law had stipulated as penalty,” World Wide Fund-Philippines president Lory Tan said.
While the Tubbataha protected marine reserve has a management board that will decide how to use the money, Paje suggested that the compensation be spent for the rehabilitation of the coral reefs and on investments to protect them.
He said the management board should strengthen Tubbataha’s radar navigational mechanism to guide ships and warn them off before they barge into the marine reserve.
“I think the government can avail itself of the technology to guide ships. The navigational route should be properly marked and well-defined. Maybe we can have additional lighthouses,” Paje said.
Greenpeace Philippines media campaigner Therese Salvador said the group welcomed this development and that the compensation should have “an actual rehabilitation plan to make sure the money goes to scientifically recommended interventions.”
Salvador added: “Our country should strengthen our management and enforcement capacity to protect our fragile marine resources.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the foreign relations committee, said the US was duty-bound to pay the fine under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which provides that states have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.
“We make good on what we are committed to do,” Goldberg said, adding the whole process of deciding the compensation may be viewed by some people as “too slow” but that this was deliberate to make sure “everything is done the proper way.” With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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