Jul 072013
The government has opposed before the Supreme Court (SC) the request of some militant groups for a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) in connection with the grounding of a US Navy minesweeper at the Tubbataha Reef last January.

In its comment before the high court, the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), said the militant groups do not have the legal standing to claim that they represent those affected by the incident.

Government lawyers also argued that the Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists and lawyers who filed the motion are not entitled to the grant of a TEPO or even a writ of kalikasan since the incident involving American ship was already a “fait accompli,” or an irreversible fact.

The OSG also claimed that the high court cannot intervene in the process of demanding claims and damages from the US government due to the incident, since this is within the “exclusive” domain of the executive branch.

On January 17, the USS Guardian got stuck on the Tubbataha Reef on its way to Indonesia after completing a port call in Subic Bay. It took two months for Philippine and US officials to extricate the ship from the area.

Last April, several militant groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) sought a TEPO and a writ of kalikasan from the SC to stop all activities in connection with the grounding of the USS Guardian.

The petitioners wanted the SC to bar US military ships from entering the Philippines, saying such activities were causing “trauma” to the world famous reef.

The groups also asked the high court to stop US war games and port calls by US ships pending “clear guidelines” on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

In its comment, the OSG likewise said that the petitioners should not involve the VFA issue in the incident because the vessel was just exercising its “right of innocent passage” when it got stranded at the Unesco-declared world heritage site.
“The constitutionality of the VFA is long settled… Because there were no joint military exercises during the grounding incident, then the VFA does not apply,” the government counsel said. — BM, GMA News

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