Study impacts first before chopping up Guardian

ENVIRONMENTAL activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE) warned the government to conduct a thorough study of the impacts on the Tubbataha Reef of the US Navy’s solution to removing the USS Guardian, before allowing the navy to dismantle the Minesweeper and risk causing more damage to the reef park.

“We must prioritize the health and integrity of the Tubbataha Reef and know first the amount and extent of possible impacts of the different salvaging operations before we decide. We should take caution because the US Navy is apparently more concerned with the USS Guardian than with protecting the national marine park,” said KPNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista, Jr.

Bautista added that, “the Philippine government, not the US Navy, should decide on how we should protect our marine resources in relation to the removal of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef.”

The US Navy recently announced that dismantling the minesweeper is the best solution to removing the navy ship, discarding other options such as lifting the ship by crane and hauling the ship from the affected reef area. The USS Guardian has been reported to have run aground the Tubbataha reef on January 17, and has been stuck in the reef for more almost two weeks.

“There are a lot of marine experts, environmentalists, technical persons and organizations that we could mobilize to study and determine the best solution. If it turns out that the least damaging and best possible solution is to let the USS Guardian sink in the Tubbataha Park then we should consider it,” said Bautista.

The Navy earlier apologized for the incident, but has not committed to paying for the reef damage and related expenses.

However, Bautista said that “it is non-negotiable that the US government should be the one to shoulder the cost of the salvaging effort, the damage to the reef, and the rehabilitation effort.”

The environmental group has also urged the Philippine government to sue the US Navy for damaging  Tubbataha and entering a protected marine area, but until now, the Aquino government has not filed any charges against any of the sailors in the minesweeper.  Most of the 80 sailors of the USS Guardian have already returned to their US Sasebo Naval Base in Japan.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Article V, Section 1 stated that Philippine authorities shall have jurisdiction over US personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines.

“Filing of charges will strengthen our demand for damage and compensation cost from the US government. But mere monetary compensation is not enough to make the US accountable. We have to assert our law and sovereignty by filing a millennium class suit against the US government,” added Bautista.

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