US should volunteer to pay for Tubbataha damage – Miriam

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said on Wednesday, September 17, that the US should volunteer to pay for the damage its warship had inflicted on Tubbataha Reef, a protected marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"It should just voluntary offer to pay... because it destroyed part of the Tubbataha Reef. That's an ugly position. You know, ugly is okay but the US is overdoing it," Santiago said in a press conference Wednesday morning. 

The statement comes after the Supreme Court voted 13-0-2 to junk a writ of kalikasan petition, deferring the matter of seeking compensation to President Benigno Aquino III

A writ of kalikasan is a court order sought as a legal remedy under the Philippine justice system. It enables protection against and response to critical environmental damage that threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. 

The High Court said it does not have jurisdiction over the case against the US because of a legal principle that makes states immune from suit. 

Continue discussions with US

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it will continue "ongoing discussions" with the US government on the"matter of securing full compensation for the damage caused to the Tubbataha Reef."

"We will be guided by the Supreme Court decision and the advice of the Office of the Solicitor General," DFA said in a note on Wednesday. 

The US had said it was prepared to provide compensation for the damaged reef, but petitions filed before the Philippine Supreme Court led to an impasse in negotiations between the Philippines and the US.

In June, the US Embassy in Manila received a request for compensation from the Philippine government amounting to P58 million (US$1.3 million) because of damage caused by the USS Guardian to 2,345.67 square meters of coral reef when it crashed into the world-famous marine park on January 17, 2013.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement, imposes liabilities for damage caused by warships or other foreign vessels on the environment.

Santiago argued that while it is not a signatory to the international agreement, the US is bound by international law to pay for the damage.

"There is a provision under the Vienna Convention on the law of treaty when the practice has turned into a principle of international law. It is considered Jus cogens, meaning a rule of international law. International environmental law provides you have to pay for damage to environment whether it was done accidentally or not. The US government cannot use the excuse that its not party to the UNCLOS," she said. – Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com