22 January 2013
Environmentalist and militants trooped to the US Embassy to denounce the recent grounding of USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, in world heritage site and marine biodiversity-rich Tubbataha Reef National Park.
“At this moment USS Guardian is stuck atop Tubbataha Reef and continues to wreck our national treasure. The US officials until now offer no clear explanation as to why their ship trespassed into the marine sanctuary. No apology or even an acknowledgement of the violation was done,” says Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.
According to US Pacific Fleet, the USS Guardian had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to Indonesia and then on to Timor Leste to participate in a military exercise when the grounding occurred. The US Navy attributes the error to a faulty navigation chart.
“Blaming old digital navigation chart the reason for grounding is a lame excuse, the intruders are clearly lying. The US ship is equipped with state of the art navigation technology and weaponry,” Bautista points out.
The US Navy has pulled out and took custody of 72 out of 79 crew of the USS Guardian. Commanding and executive officers remain on the ship.
“The Philippine government should assert its jurisdiction and authority over our territorial waters. Like what we did with the Chinese poachers who entered the Tubbataha Reef area, the US Guardian officials and crew should be arrested and apprehended. The Philippine government should be the one doing the direct investigation and have custody over the violators,” Bautista explains.
“Instead to be prudent and assertive, the Aquino government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) just accepted the excuses and allowed US military forces to get scotch free like in their previous violations such as the toxic pollution in Subic Bay and US drone in Masbate. There is prima facie evidence that the US deliberately violated our laws,” Bautista states.
Angeline Songco, Tubbataha National Park Management officer, said that the US Navy entered the reserve without a permit, damaged the protected corals, did not coordinate with the government officials, and prevented the park management to immediately investigate the incident.
“The Philippine government, which up to this day have not filed any formal protest or complaint against the US Navy, is showing how spineless they are before the US. We expect that the Aquino government again to defend the US military forces by invoking the power of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” adds Bautista.
“If VFA continue to be implemented, we expect these kind of violations to proliferate and persist, affecting our people and environment. Legal actions should be filed against the US Navy and VFA. If we want to protect our marine biodiversity and environment, we must work for the abrogation of VFA,” Bautista ends.
Photo courtesy of BAYAN - Southern Tagalog