Weighing the value of Tubbataha Reef

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jan 22 2013 02:32 PM | Updated as of Jan 26 2013 02:42 AM

Officials eye efforts to extract USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef

Kalikasan-PNE urges gov't to seek compensation for Tubbataha accident

MANILA - Officials from the Transportation department and the Philippine Coast Guard are meeting with Palawan Governor Abraham Mitra to discuss efforts to extract of the U.S. Navy ship USS Guardian from the Tubbataha Reef.

The USS Guardian, a U.S. Navy minesweeper at the marine protected area in Tubbataha Reefs, Sulu Sea. Photo courtesy of Armed Forces of the Philippines/Reuters

Department of Transportation and Commmunications (DOTC) Undersecretary Eduardo Oban said an operation center will be set up to consolidate all salvage operations.

Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said the Coast Guard is reviewing proposals to extract the ship from the reef by lifting rather that dragging the ship, in order to prevent any more damage.

Isorena added that once a salvage ship arrives, it may take seven to ten days to remove the USS Guardian.

Mitra said the U.S. should be made to explain why the ship steered into the marine sanctuary.

Once the ship is removed, a task force headed by the Philippine Coast Guard will assess the damage and eventually, address legal issues.


Malacanang said the Philippines will seek compensation from the U.S. government following the destruction wrought by the grounding of a U.S. Navy vessel at the Tubbataha Reef.

The Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) said, given adequate evidence of the U.S.' breach of Philippine laws, the Philippine government should not wait for results of the U.S. Navy's investigation, before filing a formal protest against the U.S. Navy to hold the crew and officers of the USS Guardian accountable.

"Lagi nalang malamya ang posisyon ng gobyerno. The last incidence of toxic dumping in Subic Bay and entry of U.S. drones in Masbate, ang sinasabi ng Aquino government magbayad lang sila. Hindi, kailangan nilang sagutin, managot sa pag-violate ng batas, hindi lamang hindi lang sa pagsira ng kalikasan," said Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista on Primetime on ANC on Monday.

"Magpapatuloy ang ganitong violation, dadami ito kung di mapigilan ang pagpasok ng military forces sa territorial waters. Lagi nilang sinasabi they are allowed under the VFA," he said.

Kalikasan-PNE is pushing for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which it calls biased in favor of the U.S.

While the U.S. has expressed regret over the incident, Bautista said the U.S. Navy also has a lot to answer for.

"Hindi pa nila binabanggit kung bakit sila napunta sa Tubbataha Reef," said Bautista. "The USS Guardian is a minesweeper... They have precise navigation equipment, may surface radar yan. Imposible na di nila makita ang coral reef."

"Bukod sa machines, 80 yung crew... 24 hours tinitingnan. We think may hindi sila sinasabi sa incidente," he added.

Given the history of U.S. environmental violations within Philippine territory, he said the presence of the U.S. minesweeper may have been deliberate.

"Hindi nila pinananagutan gaya ng toxic contamination in the U.S. military bases, hindi nagaaccept ng responsibility... yung waste dumping sa Subic Bay, hindi nila inaamin na may kasalanan... baka ganito ang mangyari dito," Bautista added.


Clemente said damage estimates following the incident may even be inaccurate.

"Napakaliit nung binabanggit nila-- 10 meters. Yung USS Guardian almost 1.4 million kilos, ang haba niya 68 meters. So napakalaki ng damage nito. I think its impossible, kasi gumagalaw pa... Currently $300 per square meter ang (penalty). Tingin namin napakaliit nito given ecological value ito ay national treasure, patrimonya natin ito," he said.

Francis Verdadero, a marine ecologist volunteer of the Kalikasan Party-list group, revealed that a technical committee in U.P. Diliman that he is part of plans to launch an investigation into the extent of damage caused by the incident.

Verdadero said it's difficult to quantify the value of the Tubbataha Reef-- which is A UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered the center of marine biodiversity in the world.

"Mahirap maglagay ng value, pero ultimately P10,000 per square meter sobrang minimal for the damage... Ultimately kung ano ang nakatira doon (sa reef), damay yun. We can expect a decrease in fish biomass," he said.

And that doesn't discount the cost of the accident's effect on tourism.

Verdadero said the Philippine government may not be properly apprised of the true value of the reef park.

"Kung ano man ang maging aksyon ng gobyerno magiging repleksyong yan ng orientasyong ng Pilipinas sa environment... it's either weak or nonexistent yung appreciation natin sa environment."