Tubbataha Reef faces peril under US-Aquino regime

TUBBATAHA Reef in Palawan, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, is home to marine species endemic to the Philippines. Last January 17, US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian struck South Atoll of the reef and damaged 1,000 square meter of the 97,303 hectares.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the oldest and broadest alliance of tertiary student publication in the Philippines and Asia-Pacific, condemns the intrusion of the US Navy vessel into the no-navigation waters of Tubbataha Reef in Sulu Sea southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. An act which is a by-product of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), it is a clear affront to our national sovereignty and integrity of our national territory.

The US Navy also committed violations to the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park Act of 2009, particularly, unauthorized entry (Section 19), damages to the reef (Section 20), non-payment of conservation fees (Section 21), destroying and disturbing resources (Section 26), and obstructing law enforcement (Section 30).

Instead of upholding our sovereignty as a nation and integrity of our national territory, the Aquino administration stays silent on the issue and cannot impose actions on the stranded vessel despite of the damages it caused to one of the Philippines’ treasures. American troops barred the rangers to probe the ship considering that the rangers are under the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board which has the authority over the natural park.

“This is a manifestation of the unfair and pro-American position of VFA and MDT by letting US troops to get in and out of the country and roam around our territories freely and without obstruction which is detrimental to our sovereignty,” Marc Lino Abila, CEGP National Deputy Secretary-General said. “These also cause terror and violations to the rights of the Filipino people.”

“Aside from these violations of the US Navy to our laws, the reef also serves as an important breeding ground for a number of marine species. It is home to almost 600 species of fish and 360 species of corals, roughly half of the total coral species in the world. It is also a haven to the endangered hawksbill and green sea turtle,” Abila explained.

Due to its isolated location, it is an ideal place for fish to breed and eventually repopulate the seas of Palawan and the Visayas. Hence, the conservation and protection of the reef is crucial to the food supply. Its rich resources help the marine life to thrive abundantly, he added.

It will also take a long period for the coral reef to rebuild itself. It would take one year for one millimeter hard coral two grow and 250 years for hard coral to mature.

CEGP, with its stance to protect the environment and oppose foreign domination, the US-Aquino regime should be held accountable to the grave destruction caused by the USS Guardian to Tubbataha Reef posing a threat to the country’s biodiversity.

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