Feb 042013
A federation of fisherfolk groups on Tuesday formally asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to file charges against Navy officials and crew members of the USS Guardian for what they called a “grand massacre” of the Tubbataha Reef Park after an accident earlier this month.

In a letter to De Lima, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley and Lt. Commander Mark Rice of the US Asia Pacific military command and the 79 crew members of USS Guardian should all be held liable for the destruction of the reef.

“The evidence is so damning enough to enforce the arrest of US Navy officials and 79 crew members of USS Guardian for extremely violating the country’s sovereignty and laws. But nothing has been done to pursue their arrest and demand accountability from them,” said the Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines.

The USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last January 17 and could not immediately be extracted.

Much of its potentially harmful content – including 15,000 gallons of fuel – have already been removed from the ship.

An initial assessment of the incident had shown that about 1,000 square meters of corals in Tubbataha Reef park have been severely damaged. It is believed that it takes a 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 Pamalakaya said the livelihood of at least 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 would be adversely affected by the incident.

“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 said.

The US Navy had agreed to dismantle and safely remove the 23-year-old ship from the reef, “in sections.” Likewise, the US Embassy in Manila had apologized for the incident.

President Benigno Aquino III had already accepted the apology but vowed to pursue cases in violation of certain environmental laws.

“But Aquino’s statement is merely good for public relations campaign. It has no meat or muscle at all because the culprits are free and no formal charges are filed against them,” Pamalakaya said.

After the incident, USS Guardian officials and crew members had since been allowed to fly back to their homeport in Sasebo, Japan, something which did not sit well with the Pamalakaya.

“It would be legally appropriate too for the Department of Justice to file criminal and administrative charges against Philippine authorities who let Navy officials and crew of USS Guardian to launch the grand escape from justice and be absolved too from criminal liabilities arising from flagrant violations of Philippine sovereignty and giant kill of Tubbataha Reef,” the fisherfolk federation said.

The Pamalakaya said the incident should prompt the Philippine government to abrogate the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, as well as to unconditionally pull out all US troops, warships and aircraft from Philippine territory. – VVP, GMA News

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