PH activists to Washington DC: Don’t blame us, just account and pay

PH activists to Washington DC: Don’t blame us, just account and pay

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, John Lloyd Hoffman and Trinity Biglang Awa

MANILA, Philippines – “Why blame petitioners who had asked the Supreme Court last year to issue a Writ of Kalikasan against the US and Manila governments over the infamous grounding of USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef National Park? This is a national foul play and a grand mockery of truth, justice and accountability.”

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) issued the statement in response to the statement made by Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Raul Hernandez that negotiations for compensation by the US to the Philippines for the damaged caused by the American minesweeper has been put on hold pending a final decision by the Supreme Court on the petition filed by Pamalakaya, and other groups and personalities affiliated and allied with umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

“The Aquino government and officials of the foreign affairs department failed to assert justice and national sovereignty because they are all puppets and de facto officials of Washington DC in Malacanang and in the executive department.

This is the reason why the US has yet and will never honor its crimes against the people and the environment and will not fulfill its obligations to correct their horrendous offense to 97.31 million Filipinos,” said Salvador France and Peter Gonzales, vice chairpersons of Pamalakaya in a joint statement.

On Monday, the DFA spokesperson argued that talks were suspended after environmentalists and militant groups filed a complaint against the US before the high court when minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground the reef in January last year, damaging over 4,000 square meters of the coral outcrop. Pamalakaya is one of the petitioners filed at SC last year.

In press briefing with reporters covering the foreign affairs department on Monday, the DFA spokesperson said here were commitments on the part of the US to make compensation but further discussion on this were held off because of the case filed with the Supreme Court.

He said there has been progress in the discussion between the Philippines and US on the issue of compensation for the damage caused by the USS Guardian on Tubattaha Reef. However, certain parties filed a case before the SC relating to the issue. As there is a pending SC case, we would like to refrain from making further comments.

“This is very ridiculous. Imagine, instead of recognizing our efforts to make the US pay for their crimes, the DFA is blaming us for asserting the people’s rights to truth, justice and accountability and for asserting national sovereignty which the Philippine government failed to defend and uphold. This is Aquino’s super puppetry to US in broad daylight,” the Pamalakaya officials said.

Pamalakaya last week pressed the Aquino administration to follow up and pursue the US government to honor its obligations arising from the national environmental disaster involving the USS Guardian that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef on January 17 last year.

The group, which is one of the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court last year lamented that the United States government continues to snub the high tribunal’s request for Washington to answer the petition that named Scott Swift, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the American minesweeper.

“The US government must respond to and account for their crimes against the people and the environment. That is simple as ABC, nothing more, nothing less. The incident merits the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and the 79 other crew of USS Guardian and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington,” the group said in their previous petition filed at the Department of Justice last year.

The high tribunal last year acted on the petition filed by a multisectoral group led by Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan; Frances Quimpo, Clemente Bautista Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne; Maria Carolina Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan); Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; Roland Simbulan of Junk VFA Movement; Teresita Perez; Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino; Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya; Giovanni Tapang, Agham; Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno; Joan May Salvador, Gabriela; Jose Enrique Africa; Theresa Concepcion; Mary Joan Guan; Nestor Baguinon, and public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz.

In a 90-page petition filed last April 17, 2013, the groups asked the SC to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian. Apart from issuance of the writ and TEPO, they also sought a determination of the fine to be imposed on the US Navy and the prosecution of the officers of the Guardian.

Petitioners are also asking the SC to order a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships in the absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The petitioners were also seeking seeking higher penalties for and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last January.

Admiral Cecil Haney, commanding officer of the US Pacific Fleet in a 160 page document said lack of leadership and faulty navigational equipment led to the grounding of the former USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef last January, which could have been prevented if the officers and members of the American minesweeper adhere to prudent, safe and sound navigation principles.

The US military official said the watch team’s observations of visual cues in the hours leading up to the grounding, combined with electronic cues and alarms, should have triggered immediate steps to resolve warnings and reconcile discrepancies.

Haney said the Jan.17 incident was a “tragic mishap” which is wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution, and unfortunate circumstances. The US report says the investigation uncovers no single point of failure; instead, there were numerous links in the error chain leading up to the grounding—had any one of which been appropriately addressed, the grounding would have been prevented.

The US report, however, recommended “further administrative action against the commanding general of the ex-Guardian, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, the executive officer and navigator Lt. Daniel Tyler, the assistant navigator and the officer of the deck at the time of the grounding.

“The US report on Tubbataha environmental disaster exonerated Washington D.C and reduced the highly questionable incident to a drama of unfortunate event and plain and simple human error,” Pamalakaya noted.

The Philippine government previously reported that USS Guardian damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the marine protected area and had asked the US government to pay the Manila government a fine of P 58 million for the damage.

Meanwhile, Pamalakaya followed up their request to Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Leila de Lima to file criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew members of USS Guardian.

The militant group said it was wondering why until now there is no progress on their request letter to the justice chief filed last February urging de Lima to investigate and file appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew members of the US minesweeper ship.

The group said it appeared to them that Secretary de Lima has abandoned her job to file criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and 79 other crew of USS Guardian that ran ground in Tubbataha Reef last January 17 this year.

“It appears to us that Secretary de Lima is not keen to charge the rapists of the UNESCO declared heritage park. In the first place, she did not do anything to stop the US prime time rapists ofTubbataha from leaving the country,” said Pamalakaya.

Pamalakaya said it seems to them that Secretary de Lima carries the sentiment of Malacanang and US Embassy in Manila. All they want is to call it quits with Washington D.C for the sum of P 58 million.

“The DoJ Secretary is a willing hostage of this political tale of blockbuster puppetry of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to US government. How can we rely on her? The future of the letter of complaint we filed at DoJ urging Secretary de Lima to extradite the officials and crews of the American minesweeper has no future and will forever remain in oblivion,” said Pamalakaya.

On Feb. 5, Pamalakaya officials filed a letter complaint demanding DoJ to file criminal and appropriate charges against officials and other 79 crew members of USS Guardian which hit portions of Tubbataha Reef Park on January 17, 2013.

In their letter to Secretary de Lima, leaders of Pamalakaya and Anakpawis partylist insisted that the Philippine government should settle the score with the US government in connection with the grounding of American minesweeper that destroyed over 4,000 square meters of coral reefs.

They said Secretary de Lima should decisively take legal action against US navy officials and the 79 crew personnel of USS Guardian—an American navy minesweeper that ran aground off Tubbataha Natural Park near Sulu and West Palawan Sea.

In their letter of appeal and complaint, the groups strongly persuaded Secretary de Lima to file charges, recommend the immediate and unconditional pullout of US troops, warships and aircraft inside the Philippine territory to avoid repeat of Tubbataha disaster and prevent Washington from perenially violating the country’s sovereignty and national patrimony.

In the same vein, the Pamalakaya leaders strongly recommended to DoJ to endorse the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty and the urgent pull out of all US troops, warships and aircraft in the Philippine territory to prevent a repeat of an environmental disaster similar to the January 17, 2013 Tubbataha tragedy.

The Pamalakaya leaders insisted said the DoJ should file cases against Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice and Lt. Daniel Tyler, the officials of the USS Guardian along with 2 other Navy officials and 79 crew members of the American minesweeper.

Both groups insisted the US navy officials and the 79 crew of USS Guardian are liable for violating Republic Act No. 10067 that declared Tubbataha a protected area, and that individuals who violated the law may be punished with up to six years imprisonment and may be slapped with fines of up to P 300,000.

The initial assessment as to the extent of the damage revealed that about 4,000 square meters of corals in Tubbataha Reef park have been severely damaged is just the a tip of the iceberg. Some quarters said the damage could be more than what was projected.

“The damage caused by the grounding of USS Guardian on Tubbataha Natural Reef Park is bigger, far more reaching and strategically fatal to the livelihood of Filipino fishermen and to the fishing environment directly link to the protected reef park. It will take 1 year for a millimeter of mostly hard corals in Tubbataha’s South Section to go back to its sound condition and it will take 250 years for a meter of coral to mature,” the group said.

According to Pamalakaya, Tubbataha Reef is a home to 360 species of corals or about half of all coral species in the world and it is also the breeding ground of 1,500 fish species in the country out of the 2,400 total fish species found across the archipelago.

The Tubbataha Reef Park also plays an important role in maintaining the average annual production of 800,000 metric tons of fish in the West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea, two of the country’s major fishing grounds which are connected withTubbataha.

The productive network of corals of Tubbataha had helped fish generation and production in nearby fishing areas that extend to major fishing grounds such as Panay and Guimaras islands, Negros island, Cebu and Bohol Islands and the rest of Visayan Sea.

The damage created by the USS grounding on Tubbataha will have a strategic negative impact on fish production and livelihood of not less than 100,000 fisherfolk and fish workers in commercial fishing vessels in West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea and adjacent fishing waters in the Visayas and Mindanao.

GerryAlbert is based in Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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