US apologizes for reef damage; mum on protest

Paterno Esmaquel II
The US government fails to address the Tubbataha park management's protest against the 'behavior' of the grounded ship's authorities

MANILA, Philippines – The United States government on Friday, January 25, formally apologized for its grounded ship that damaged the Tubbataha Reef, but failed to address the Filipino protest against the ship’s allegedly “misbehaving” authorities.

“On behalf of the United States government, I wish to convey to the Philippine government and people my profound regret over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef,” said US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas in a statement.

“This was an unfortunate accident, and I recognize the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity,” Thomas said.

Tubbataha is no ordinary reef, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It is also the Philippines’ first marine protected area, which not only attracts divers worldwide, but helps provide food to millions of Filipinos.

In his statement, Thomas said the US will help the Philippines remove the ship from the reef as quickly as possible, “making every possible effort to avoid or minimize further damage.” He also said their government will help address the environmental issues arising from the incident.

Protest vs ‘demeanor’

Thomas, however, left out the protest of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park against the demeanor of its ship’s authorities.

Last January 18, Tubbataha park authorities formally lodged a protest with the US government after the US Navy barred park rangers from approaching the stuck ship.

“The ship’s commander ordered a general alert and deployed personnel into battle position when our rangers tried to approach their ship to assess the situation, forcing them to back off,” said the park’s chief supervisor, Angelique Songco, in an interview with reporters.

Songco said the “behavior of the ship’s commanding authorities” prompted them to file the protest.

On Wednesday, January 23, the US Navy admitted it was “unfortunate” that they ignored and barred Tubbataha park rangers to board the USS Guardian when it crashed into the reef. A US Navy official said they will have the issue investigated.

So far, authorities have failed to pull out the ship, which was even flooded.

A US Navy minesweeper, the USS guardian ran aground near Tubbataha Reef last week. Under Philippine laws, the US Navy will face steep penalties, even as critics also urge the Philippine government to file an international protest. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.