MANILA, Philippines – No amount of apology will compensate for the damage caused by a grounded US naval marine sweeper, and the Philippine government will pursue damage claims, President Benigno Aquino III said.
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Aquino told reporters Friday night in Davos that fines will have to be levied on the US for the damage caused in Tubbataha Reef, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
“Excuse me, may nasira sa amin eh. Ganoon na lang ba ‘yon?” the President quipped. (Excuse me, you damaged something. Will we leave it at that?)
While thankful that the US respects the Philippines as a sovereign state, Aquino said this does not exempt the US from “having to comply with our laws.”
The United States had already issued an apology to the government for the incident.
The President said he had instructed Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to conduct the investigation and to “dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s.” He had likewise asked the Philippine Coast Guard to prioritize removal of the USS Guardian, which has remained stuck since January 17.
Earlier, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board said it would serve the US Navy a formal notice of violations committed under Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Act of 2009.
Aquino said once the assessment of the damage is completed, the investigation must determine why it happened and how it could be prevented in the future.
Aquino also said the investigation will also try to determine how the naval vessel got to enter Tubbataha Reef in the first place, and why the ship’s navigation systems failed to adequately guide the vessel.
Possibly faulty navigational charts were pointed to by the US Navy as reason for the intrusion in the protected area.
“Our laws are very specific, and when they got the diplomatic clearance to pass through our waters, this is a recognized — internationally recognized zone that is an exclusive zone. They violated it, there are penalties. Then they will have to address all of these violations of our pertinent laws,” Aquino said.
No relation to VFA
The President also said the incident cannot be linked to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) because the area is not covered by the pact.
“What’s the connection of the VFA in their venture to Tubbataha? There are no exercises there. Again, this is really a question of violating certain ecological laws that we already have in the books,” Aquino said.
Protected area superintendent and head of the Tubbataha management office Angelique Songco told Rappler that the ship “entered without a permit” in violation of section 19 of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) Act of 2009.
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park official explained that the amount of damage to the coral will be determined by a joint team of the USS Guardian and personnel from the marine park.
Songco added that once the damage is assessed, the owner of the ship, the US Navy, can expect to pay P12,000 per sqm of destroyed reefs. – Rappler.com