Jun 242013
Militant groups on Monday challenged the US government to heed a Philippine Supreme Court order for it to comment on a writ of kalikasan petition earlier filed in connection with the grounding of the US navy ship USS Guardian at the Tubbataha Reef last January.

Salvador France, vice chair of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), said the US government should no longer invoke international treaties to skirt the SC ruling.

“The US government must respond to and account for their crimes against the people and the environment. That is simple as ABC, nothing more, nothing less. The incident merits the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and the 79 other crew of USS Guardian and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington,” said France.

Earlier reports claimed that the high court had issued a resolution directing the US government and Malacañang, as well as Cabinet and military officials to file a comment on the petition filed last April 17 by a group of two Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists, and lawyers.

Supreme Court Public Information Office chief and spokesman Theodore Te could not immediately confirm if such a resolution had been issued.

The US servicemen named as respondents in the petition were Navy officials Scott Swift, Commander of the US 7th Fleet; and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the USS Guardian.

For his part, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes welcomed the high court’s action to require the respondents in the petition to file a comment.

Both Pamalakaya and Bayan are among the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan plea with the SC, which sought among others the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO).

“It is our hope that the petition will eventually be given due course and resolved in favor of the Filipino people,” Reyes said.

He added: “We continue to look forward to a TEPO in light of continuing port calls and exercises by US ships and troops under the VFA.”

Reyes said these activities continue to pose environmental threats and constitute an assault to the Philippines’ sovereignty.

In their plea to the SC, the petitioners also asked the high court to direct the government to file administrative, civil, and criminal cases against individuals responsible for the grounding of the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian on the reef last January.

In addition, they asked the court to provide Philippine authorities with “primary and exclusive jurisdiction” over US officials named as respondents in the petition, and also declare as unconstitutional Article V (“Criminal Jurisdiction”) and Article VI of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which extends immunity to US servicemen.

The petitioners said the Philippine government’s $1.4 million estimate of the compensation that the US government owes the Philippines for the incident was “too small.”

They demanded a fine for the US that is 12 times the Philippine government’s estimate. Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners said the US should pay the Philippines between $16.8 million and $27 million.

They also asked the high court to require the US government to place a deposit to a trust fund “as a bona fide gesture towards full reparations.”

The USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef on January 17, but much of its potentially harmful content – including 15,000 gallons of fuel – were removed from the ship immediately. The ship was cut up and finally removed in late March.

A recent assessment of the incident shows that more than 2,000 square meters of the reef have been damaged. Environmentalists claim that it takes a year for a millimeter of mostly hard corals in Tubbataha’s South Section to go back to sound condition, and 250 years for a meter of coral to mature.

The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to “restrain respondents” from further restoration, salvage, and cleanup plans unless a “just settlement approved by the Honorable Court” is reached.

They also asked the court to provide “just and equitable environmental rehabilitation measures… [and] supervise marine wildlife rehabilitation in the Tubbataha Reefs.” A multi-sectoral technical working group to provide scientific and technical support to the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board was proposed. — BM, GMA News

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