Solons hit US for intrusion in Philippine waters
LAWMAKERS today rejected the excuse given by U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Scott Swift that the faulty navigation chart caused the USS Guardian (MCM-5), a 68-meter US Navy minesweeper, to ram into the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan early Thursday morning, damaging at least 10 linear meters of one of the country’s protected sites.
Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan (Party-list, Gabriela) said Swift’s pronouncement is not just a lame excuse but a ridiculous alibi as well. “From the most technologically advanced country, to use a map and a faulty one at that, it is rubbing salt to injury,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan expressed disappointment and criticized the US for destroying the reef, which is home to thousands of marine species covering 130,028 hectares. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1993.
Ilagan also chided the US for trespassing on Philippine waters, blatantly violating marine laws and ignoring the authorities and for using the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as an excuse.
“And we are supposed to swallow their excuse hook, line and sinker?” Ilagan asked.
Rep. Teddy Casiño (Party-list, Bayan Muna) said he did not understand why the minesweeper was present in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park when it was already on its way to Indonesia coming from a port call in Subic Bay.
“What is a minesweeper doing there in the first place?” Casiño asked. Reports said the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was unaware of the presence of the ship in the Sulu Sea where the Tubbataha reef is located.
Casiño also noted US Navy’s reported uncooperative actions towards the Tubbataha Reef Park rangers. He cited reports by Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board head Angelique Songco that when park rangers attempted to survey the damage on the reef and offered to help, the US Ship Guardian’s commander deployed personnel into battle position, forcing them to back-off.
“The Aquino administration should support the abrogation of the VFA to ensure the integrity of our marine ecosystems, protect our fisheries and to effectively make erring US entities accountable,” Casiño stressed.
Casiño is the author of House Joint Resolution 7 otherwise known as “A Joint Resolution Terminating the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement” filed on August 25, 2010 and House Resolution 1242 or a “Resolution Strongly Opposing the U.S. Troops And Military Facilities in Clark and Subic Or Any Part Of The Country Under the Pretext of the Visiting Forces Agreement In Affirmation Of The People’s Historic Rejection Of The RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991” filed on May 11, 2011. Both measures have been pending in the Committee on National Defense since August 25, 2010 and May 23, 2011, respectively.