Tubbataha incident 'embarrassing,' says ex-US envoy

From a report by Ces Oreña Drilon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2013 09:12 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2013 05:14 AM

MANILA – Former President Fidel V. Ramos said he finds it difficult to believe the US Navy's explanation about the USS Guardian running aground in the protected reef of Tubbataha.

“That’s a very poor mariner’s excuse even if you were just a small boat commander, but we are talking about a fleet commander…I think he got the wrong map. Fortunately, they were not the ancient maps of you know who,” said Ramos.

The former President was among the dignitaries at the talk of former US Ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte on US foreign policy in the second Obama administration.

Negroponte considers the incident an embarrassment to the US.

“It needs to get unstuck both in the interest of good seamanship and the interest of the environment…The captain of the vessel certainly did not do what happened on purpose. It was obviously an accident, an unfortunate and you can say embarrassing accident, but it was not a deliberate act,” he said.

The incident has sparked calls for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the United States and the Philippines.

But Negroponte doesn't see a willingness on the part of the US to reopen the VFA.

“The Visiting Forces Agreement, the good thing about it is that it provided a way in which American forces could visit but while operating entirely in full respect of Philippine sovereignty and not re-opening the issue of bases that were closed,” he said.


In his talk, Negroponte said he sees President Obama revitalizing even more the US alliance with Southeast Asia.

Negroponte said the President is more familiar with Asia than any part of the world.

“The President has now become accustomed to meeting annually with ASEAN leaders, I think that’s a good thing. Secretary Clinton has been coming to the regional forum every year. So those diplomatic exchanges need to be built upon, fortified and deepened,” he said.

Negroponte also referred to the rise of Asia as the political center of gravity in the world, with the Philippines benefiting from its overall economic growth.

“I think one thing that seems to be happening is that Southeast Asia is doing better.  There’s a lot of good things happening in this part of the world and I think the Philippines is benefitting from that. Also, I think our economy is poised to improve somewhat,” said Negroponte.

On China's territorial aggression and continued presence in Scarborough Shoal, Negroponte said the US hopes the conflict will be settled peacefully, but acknowledges a solution seems elusive.

President Obama's inaugural address pledged climate change goals.

Negroponte said the renewed focus on climate change is an opportunity for the US to engage china in a positive way.

Negroponte is in the Philippines for the second board meeting of the newly established US-Philippines Society, whose mission is to raise profile of the Philippines in America. -- ANC