PH group presses Manila government to extradite officials, crew of USS Guardian

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PH group presses Manila government to extradite officials, crew of USS Guardian

A coral reef formation in the Verde sea passage south of Manila


Manila : Philippines | Jan 16, 2014 at 4:36 AM PST
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A coral reef formation in the Verde sea passage south of Manila

PH group presses Manila government to extradite officials, crew of USS Guardian

By Gerry Albert Corpuz

Manila, Philippines – Exactly one year after an American minesweeper ran aground in national reef park in the Philippines, concerned groups led by the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday pressed the Philippine government to extradite officials and 79 other crew of USS Guardian that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17, 2013, or exactly one year since the environmental disaster happened in the UNESCO-declared heritage park.

In a press statement, Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France pressed the Office of the President, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) to pursue the return of military officials and crew members of the American minesweeper to the country and compel these US military personnel to response to the writ of Kalikasan filed by Pamalakaya, the umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other personalities and institutions.

“President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima are hereby ordered by the 97 million Filipinos to pursue the extradition of US military officials and crew members of USS Guardian so they could face pending cases filed against them in connection with the onslaught of Tubbataha Reef park,” the Pamalakaya official said.

In particular, France said the Aquino administration should demand the return of USS Guardian officers Lt. Commander Mark Rice and Lt. Daniel Tyler and the 79 crews of the American minesweeper.

On Feb. 5, 2013, France of Pamalakaya and Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap led their respective organizations in filing 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 Jan. 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 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 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 perennially violating the country’s sovereignty and national patrimony.

In the same vein, the groups strongly recommended to DoJ to endorse the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement 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 Jan. 17, 2013, Tubbataha tragedy.

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.

“But more than the violation of reef park law, the US rapists of Tubbataha Reef violated in flagrant and red carpet manner the sovereign rights and territorial integrity of a nation with 97 million people. This wholesale massacre of Filipino sovereign rights will be cited and argued in the case against the extrajudicial killers of the UNESCO declared heritage site,” they said.

The Jan. 17 environmental tragedy has taken its toll on the 130,028-hectare corals of the protected site. The 1,300-ton, 68-meter ship is taking its toll on Tubbataha Reef in destructive fashion.

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 groups said.

According to Pamalakaya and Anakpawis partylist, 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 that are connected with Tubbataha.

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.

Source: All voices

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